After it became known Depardieu bought a house in Belgium to become what is called here a “fiscal exile,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called his conduct “tacky.” Labor Minister Michel Sapin said he was an example not of France’s cinematic accomplishments but of “personal degradation.” Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti accused him of “deserting the battlefield in a war against the economic crisis.”
President Francois Hollande tried hard to stay above the fray but could not resist a dig. “When someone loves France, he should serve it,” the chief of state intoned in a radio interview Friday.
What Depardieu did to deserve the epithets was acquire a graceless little home in Nechin, a drab Belgian village less than a mile over the border, in order, he acknowledged, to establish a foreign residence and escape at least part of France’s increasingly confiscatory tax rates. Moreover, when Ayrault denounced him for dodging the tax man, Depardieu responded with an outburst of swashbuckling anger worthy of the prickly Cyrano.
“Who are you to judge me that way, Mr. Ayrault, prime minister of Mr. Hollande, I ask you, who are you?” he demanded to know. Adding insult to injury in an instinctively nationalistic country, Depardieu added, “I hand you back my passport. . . . We no longer have the same fatherland.”
Depardieu, an outsize personality with stringy blond hair who turns 64 next week, has made dozens of films in a four-decade career, some regarded as artsy, others as raunchy and not a little low-brow. His best known role in the United States was perhaps in 1990’s “Green Card,” a light comedy co-starring Andie MacDowell.
Over the years, as his stomach protruded steadily, Depardieu has become known as well for his real-life excesses. By now a barrel of gargantuan proportions with a swollen nose, cascading chins and an Rabelaisian appetite for food and drink, he was in the headlines recently for crashing his motor scooter while driving drunk down a Paris street. Before that it was urinating in the aisle of an airplane when the flight attendant told him he could not go to the toilet until after takeoff.
But to many Frenchmen, going overboard for good wine and fine food only made him more lovable. This, after all, is a country where TF1, the leading television channel, has devoted part of its main evening news broadcast this week to recipes for exquisite holiday dinners of truffles, oysters and foie gras.