Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Montage Revokes Your License! This Week: Gerard Depardieu-By Sandra Dupuy

Once upon a time in the thriving dump of Châteauroux, France, there was an unruly young man born of alcoholic working-class parents. Blessed with awkward charm and a bubbly personality, his lust for life took him from rag to riches, mean streets to stardom, tarts and thugs to theatre. Yes, Gérard, it is you we are talking about.

You were once a respected actor, one of the best French cinema had ever fostered. You weren't classically handsome, but your sturdy physique and your onscreen charisma could be compared to that of a young Jean Gabin or a steamy early Brando. You also displayed a rare mischievous 70s sensibility, as well as a flair for difficult but rewarding career moves. You're now a winemaker-cum-wino billionaire with a Gargantuan gut and a brain the size of a pickled grape. You pick your roles the way you wear your clothes, dreadfully. O Gérard, what happened to thee?

At the beginning of the 70s, Alain Delon (Le Samourai, 1967), Jean-Paul Belmondo (A bout de Souffle, 1960), Catherine Deneuve (Belle de Jour, 1967) and Jeanne Moreau (Jules et Jim, 1962) were already established as French icons and consumate thespians. The Nouvelle Vague was long gone, and French cinema needed a breath of fresh air. You put a spell on the big screen in 1972, in Bertrand Blier's erotic road/buddy movie Les Valseuses/ Going Places, stealing the show from a zany Patrick Dewaere and a bimboesque Miou-Miou. With your long hair, your cheeky grin and your self-assured yet sensitive performance, you were the new sensation.
Les Valseuses boosted your reputation, and after great collaborations with Italian mavericks Bernardo Bertolucci in 1900 (1976), and Marco Ferreri in Rêve de Singe (1978), you worked with up-and-coming French director André Téchiné in Barocco (1976), and again with Blier in his 1979 Buffet Froid, a masterpiece of absurdity.

You were ready to tackle the 80s with the fierce enthusiasm of a bull bolting into the arena, accumulating films like others eat croissants. 1980 was the first of many increasingly ambitious, then pompous, then tedious 'Depardieu years'. Every director under the celluloid sun wanted you. Alain Resnais with Mon Oncle d'Amérique, Maurice Pialat with Loulou, and François Truffaut with Le Dernier Métro gave you some of your best parts, in a mix of arthouse experiments and blockbusters à la française. But you already displayed a lack of restraint which would later become your downfall. Claude Zidi's Inspecteur La Bavure, a vulgar Farelli-Brothers-type comedy, shot the same year, did not compare with the aforementioned classics, though you were almost funny in it.

You then moved from social experiment to period drama, portraying French Revolution hero Danton, in Polish prodigy Andrej Wajda's eponymous film. All of us kids in Primary School had to suffer your phallic nose and high-pitched voice for three long hours, supposedly because Danton was a great historical document. We secretly cheered at the end of the film when a dignified Danton, his curly-haired teddybear head ready for the chop, said to the executioner: « Show my head to the people, it is really worth it» (he was probably talking about his bouffant perm). Thank God, we all thought, no more Depardieu for another year!

Not content with acting, you decided to plague the shiny happy people of France with your own creation, a rigid and humourless staging of Molière's ferocious attack on religious hypocrisy, Le Tartuffe (1984). Your film, austere though not devoid of visual quirks, such as the clash between your tarty make-up and your black biggot outfit, didn't agree with French critics' sensitive stomachs, and they panned it.

The end of the 80s were a reasonable vintage, and Claude Berri blessed you with the rôle of the hunchback in Jean de Florette (1986), a moving adaptation of Marcel Pagnol's classic. The overwhelming shadow of the great Raimu (writer and director Pagnol's favorite interpreter) looming over you made your part even harder to play, but you met the challenge with a tear-jerking performance. You came back to Blier with the grating 1986 Tenue de Soirée (where you played insecure Michel Blanc's junkie whore), and acted in another great Pialat, Sous Le Soleil De Satan (Cannes' 1986 Palme d'Or). Cinematographer Bruno Nuytten's first directed film, Camille Claudel, showcased an extraordinary performance by Isabelle Adjani as 19th century pedantic poet Paul Claudel's misunderstood sister. The film also displayed your barely tolerable act as Camille Claudel's paunchy and aging lover, sculptor Auguste Rodin.

The weight of years was starting to have an unforgiving effect on your increasingly plump person, and your booming wine business didn't help. You drank heavily, partied loudly, and rode your motorbikes carelessly, multiplying driving accidents and inebriated appearances on French talk-shows. In a word, you'd gone from fit to fat, and people started calling you «gros Gégé».

1990 was the year of your resurrection. You picked up the rôle of Cyrano de Bergerac where French theatre actor Daniel Sorano had left it, in the dust, and redynamised a classic. Director Jean-Paul Rappeneau cleverly adapted Edmond Rostand's play by using most of the original dialogues, and changed the bizarre love triangle into a fantastic fresco full of filth and fury. Your efforts paid this time, and you were awarded the prize for best male performance in Cannes.

So why oh why did you have to throw yourself into the first Hollywood merde passing by? Though Andie MacDowell's commitment brought sensitivity to Peter Weir's shallow rom-com Green Card (1990), your fleeting part, if entertaining, was a jumble of clichés about the French, which your poor performance corroborated. Once again, Gérard, eet eez not true zat all French people speak like zat, and zey don't always plant tomatoes on zeir balconies while drinking a leetle glass ov Saint-Emilion eizer.

It all went downhill from there. Rappeneau, who had offered you Cyrano on a silver plate, only gave you a small part in Le Hussard Sur Le Toit in 1995. Let's face it: your horseman would have been huffing and puffing all the way up Provence hills in a Sancho Panza manner, while Kylie Minogue and Juliette Binoche's former hunk, Olivier Martinez, with his natural elegance, made up for a shocking lack of talent. You also swapped adventurous directors for expensive production makers like Claude Berri (Germinal, 1993), or plain bomb droppers like Gérard Lauzier (Mon père ce héros, 1991), Steve Miner ( My Father The Hero, its 1994 mediocre Hollywood remake), Jean-Marie Poiré ( Les Anges Gardiens, 1995), and good old Zidi again (Astérix et Obélix contre César, 1999).

As for commenting on your choice of Norman Jewison's 1996 rubbish (and self-explanatory) Bogus, with poor support from weepy Whoopi (Goldberg), and Ariel Zeitoun's unwatchable Bimboland (1998)), the chatterbox I usually am is speechless. You even managed to catch the uneven Ridley Scott on a very (and I'm choosing my words carefully here), very bad day. Agreeing to play Christopher Colombus (who, in passing, was a Genoese navigator, not a French ned) in 1492 was such a stupid decision my brain still cringes thinking about it. Did you really think Vangelis's three note score would save the day?

Poor Gégé, with your regular binges, your devil-may-care attitude and your ill-advised picks, it looks like you're on an icy slope, about to slip into oblivion. Having Fidel Castro for a friend may help you puff on free cigars, but it won't resurrect your wheezy career. O Gérard, were art thou? Haste ye back with mesmerizing material and powerful performances for your license has now been revoked! And frankly, mon amour, I don't give a damn!

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