Talks & Interviews — January 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Cinema expert: France no longer needs Depardieu as actor (exclusive)

bardot-depardieuSome were enraged, when renowned French actor Gerard Depardieu left his homeland for Russia, because of the high tax rate in France. Others did not care much.

The press even said there were other reasons for Depardieu’s departure.

An expert on French cinema, Dr. Alison Smith, speaking to BZFilm, said she believes France would do just fine without Depardieu.

“The principal effect on France is one of publicity and discussion. Depardieu’s departure has made headlines and sparked a lot of comment, supportive and condemnatory, feeding into the current French opinion of Russia – and especially Vladimir Putin – as well as on the new tax-law and on the French star-system and Depardieu in particular,” Smith said.

“Depardieu still holds a certain popular affection, reinforced by the tragic loss of his son, but the French cinema no longer needs him as an actor, even if he still works a lot,” the expert added. “Even the Asterix and Obelix franchise has just got its new film out, and it must be fairly obvious to everyone that it can’t go on indefinitely.”

French producer, and Depardieu’s friend, Arnaud Frilley has said, according to the Hollywood Reporter, that Depardieu has another reason for leaving France, which was “bad press”.

“Frilley has some interest in fanning the controversy, given that he produced ‘Rasputin’ and was presumably one of Depardieu’s bridges to Kazakhstan,” Alison Smith said.

“For Depardieu as an individual I’m sure the reasons are complex: his career in France is inevitably not what it once was, and he seems to be still a workaholic. He might well not be pleased to find himself appearing in the headlines more for traffic accidents and that unfortunate incident in the plane than for his films,” the expert noted.

In 2011, Depardieu was all over the press, when he urinated in the cabin of a flying plane, in front of his fellow passengers, after the crew told him he had to wait to use the toilet, according to multiple reports.

The Golden Globe winner, 62, was on a CityJet flight from Paris to Dublin that was delayed on the tarmac when he asked to use the bathroom. After being told he had to wait until takeoff, he reportedly relieved himself in the aisle.

“Since he proclaimed his interest in moving to Belgium, the caricaturists have been quite merciless. Unfortunately, he’s easier prey for caricaturists than other high-profile tax-exiles like Johnny Hallyday,” Smith admitted.

Speaking of another famous French actress, Brigitte Bardot, who claimed she would also leave France, following Depardieu, but for different reasons, Smith said the statement “worked”.

Bardot was apparently upset with the decision of a French court to euthanize two ill elephants, being an avid animal rights activist.

“She got public attention onto these elephants while she tries to get them a home in Switzerland,” Smith said.

Another French actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz said recently that France has “a  locked-down cinema in a sort of copy of the American model”, thus he is also looking to leave the country.

Smith agrees with Kassovitz only partially.

“In part he is right, because the American cinema is THE universally familiar model for a successful cinema industry. A certain sector of French production has always been tempted to try to make the kind of films which work for Hollywood, as well as to use US-pioneered business models,” the expert said.

“It is ironic that Kassovitz has a history of being particularly close to that sector, when he wasn’t actually trying his luck in America; and at the same time, at least as director, he has always been ill-at-ease in it. As a result his films as director haven’t been well-received either by that part of the establishment which does look to Hollywood, or by that part, especially the critics, which fiercely supports an independent, artistic form of cinema,” Smith said.

Smith added, that since Kassovitz says he’s leaving for creative reasons, it would be really interesting to know where he expects to find a better environment for the kind of film he wants to make.

Not long ago in Le Monde, film producer Vincent Maraval slammed the French film industry that massively overpays its actors out of all proportion to their international box office receipts.

Smith said this could only apply to some actors, as there is no more unequal profession.

“I can’t comment on the salary figures that Maraval quoted, obviously, but assuming that they are correct it’s hard to argue with his point: vast salaries for individual stars equate to misdirected resources, especially when there is evidence that the actors in question will accept less for projects that they believe in,” the expert said.

Regarding the French subsidy law, that requires all French television channels to contribute to the industry in order to protect the art of French cinema, Smith doesn’t think abandoning the law would the the right way for French cinema.

“It would definitely be ill-advised. This function needs constant maintenance,” Smith said.

Vincent Maraval in his recent article on Hollywood Reporter says the system is being abused, as France heavily subsidizes its film industry despite low box-office receipts.

“Since the contribution is calculated as a percentage of the TV channels’ income, it’s being ‘made up’ by paying extravagant salaries to individuals for big-budget films presumed suitable for prime-time TV in France (whether or not they eventually do well there), rather than by a thoughtful production strategy geared to the worldwide profile of the French film industry,” Smith explained.

Smith noted that Maraval has suggested a way to control that by limiting the level of salary which can be counted as part of the required percentage of income, which seems a sensible proposal.

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