What does the investigation into Depardieu tell us about French culture old and new?

France's most famous actor is under investigation for rape and sexual aggression. As the "enquête" progresses French culture is at the centre of the public debate. And as more and more actors and politicians get involved it starts to resemble a film script with Depardieu in the starring role.
Dec 30 / Ellie Louis
Gérard Depardieu is the second highest-grossing actor in the history of French cinema behind Louis de Funès. He has been in over 170 films from literary greats like "Cyrano de Bergerac" outrageous cult classics such as "Les Valsueues" and children's movies such as "Asterix". Everyone in France has watched and loved a Depardieu film, he is even part of the school curriculum. So what happens when France's most famous, internationally known actor is accused and investigated for the heinous of crimes of rape and sexual aggression?   
The headlines over the last few days tell a story of the strength of feeling around this investigation.

"N'effacez pas Gérard Depardieu" was an early headline in Le Figaro including the photos of 50 stars who had come out in his support. 

"Affaire Gérard Depardieu : plus de 600 artistes signent une « contre-tribune » afin de « briser la loi du silence »" was the headline in Le Parisien a few days later where 600 stars came out against the actor saying it's time to break the silence.

"Affaire Depardieu : une semaine après la déclaration de Macron, le cinéma français se déchire" reads the headline in The Huffington Post following Macron's show of support for the actor on the primetime TV show C à vous. 

"Monsieur le président, vos paroles dénient à toutes les femmes victimes de violence le droit à être entendues et crues" reads the open letter from #Metoomedia in Le Monde.

#Metoo, Cancel Culture and Innocent until proven guilty

L'affaire Depardieu has provoked a national debate about the #metoo movement, cancel culture and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. It has also exposed divisions across generations and is forcing a re-examination of what French society finds acceptable in its art and culture both today and in the not too distant past. Public debate is taking place in the newspapers, in street demonstrations, on TV and of course across social media. Politicians, including Macron the French President, and prominent actors are all making their positions known as the debate outside the courtroom intensifies.

Depardieu - No stranger to controversy

A quick glance through quotes from Depardieu on the IMBd site will tell you that this actor does not eschew controversy. 

"When I'm stressed, I still drink five or six bottles of wine a day. When I'm relaxed, three or four, but I'm trying to cut down. You think alcohol calms you down, but you become addicted to it." [2005]

"[on Juliette Binoche] Please can you explain to me what the secret of this actress is meant to be? I would really like to know why she has been so esteemed for so many years. She has nothing. Absolutely nothing! She is nothing. Compared with her, Isabelle Adjani is great even is she's totally nuts. Or Fanny Ardant - she is magnificent, extremely impressive. But Binoche? What has she ever had going for her?" [2010]

"I had wonderful companions during my life, and afterwards we separated - but not like enemies. We stayed friends. It was always a costly thing to get a divorce, for example, but it's just money. It's not important. I had children with really wonderful women. I still like them. I think we can learn everything from women. And I especially learnt from women who have been my lovers or my mistresses. But I also learnt a lot from female writers, like Virginia Woolf and Anaïs Nin. I prefer them to, say, Hemingway, and I would always prefer them. Although I very much like F. Scott Fitzgerald, I would prefer Colette, for example. Because we can learn from them. Also because these women are born mothers. They live as mothers. And they often wait; they wait for something in their life, especially if they're strong women. And these are the human beings that make me patient, make me want to wait and accept inertia."

"France is likely to become a Disneyland for foreigners, populated by imbeciles making wine and stinky cheese for tourists. There is no more freedom, people are being manipulated."

Depardieu very publicly renounced his French citizenship to become Belgian in 2012 to avoid paying taxes. He is also known for collecting passports from his dictator friends around the globe. Perhaps the most notable of these close friendships is the one he holds with Putin. 

C dans l'air - La génération Depardieu se rebiffe… Et choque !

Watch this programme to get a thorough insight into the reactions and questions that are being raised and openly discussed around this matter.

If you are level 5 or above this debate is in your reach of understanding. It is long and may make a number of cultural references that you may not recognise, so I would recommend listening globally for gist, themes and the main arguments rather than trying to understand every word or phrase said. 

If you find that you can't grasp the ideas early on stick with it as they do get repeated and half way through there is a very good summary that will likely clarify some of the question marks you have. 

If you are at French Room levels 1-4 and would like to understand the key arguments being made in this programme please see the summary below.

L'emisson et les commentators

Pas un événement important qui ne soit évoqué, expliqué et analysé dans C dans l’air. Tout au long de la semaine, les deux journalistes donnent les clés pour comprendre dans sa globalité un événement ou un sujet de première importance, en permettant aux téléspectateurs d'intervenir dans le débat ou de poser des questions par SMS ou Internet. Caroline Roux est aux commandes de l'émission du lundi au jeudi et Axel de Tarlé prend le relais le vendredi et le samedi.

Diffusion : tous les jours de la semaine à 17 h 45

Rediffusion : tous les jours de la semaine à 22 h 30

Format : 65 minutes

Les Commentators:
Raphaëlle BACQUE - Grand reporter - « Le Monde »

Chloé MORIN - Politologue - Auteure de « On a les politiques qu’on mérite »

Jean GARRIGUES - Historien - Président du Comité d’histoire parlementaire et politique

Rachel BINHAS - Journaliste au service société - « Marianne »

La génération Depardieu se rebiffe… Et choque !

The shocking rebellion by Depardieu's generation! is the title of the programme. It followed the publication in Le Figaro of 50 notable actors and directors who came out in support of Depardieu following accusations of rape and sexual aggression. In the programme the commentators discuss this action, the events that followed this declaration of support and debate what this means for French society and culture.

A lot of the discussion around the decision by these prominent cinema personalities to declare their support is centred on the fact that they are of Depardieu's generation. Their average age is 63 plus and this is given as both an explanation for their solidarity and perhaps their preparedness to undertake such a foolhardy act in the first place. Still the commentators wonder if they will come to regret this action.

They are the post May 68 generation which is a reference to the pivotal social unrest that is credited with making France a modern day free society able to express itself as it wishes, including the advent of sexual freedom and expression. Behaviour that was and is acceptable to this generation is in conflict with current views and by association could be interpreted as a conflict between the old and the young.

Le soutien de Macron

President Macron, on the other hand, is a young President so the commentators are surprised at his decision to go on the national primetime TV show C à Vous and also declare his support for Depardieu. In response the #MeTooMedia wrote and open letter to the President in Le Monde; "Le chef de l'Etat, qui s'exprimait le 20 décembre dernier dans l'émission C à Vous sur France 5, n'avait eu aucun mot à l'endroit des femmes victimes de violences. Il avait en revanche affirmé que Gérard Depardieu rendait "fière la France". Il avait insisté sur le grand talent d'un l'acteur ayant "fait connaître la France, nos grands auteurs, nos grands personnages dans le monde entier" et était même allé jusqu' à dénoncer une "chasse à l'homme".

The commentators discuss a few thoughts relating to Macron throwing his hat into the ring. Was this a calculated political move designed to appeal to ageing voters? Was he being deliberately disruptive and provocative as is his way? Is it right and proper that he should stand up for "être considéré innocent jusqu'à un verdict de culpabilité". Where were his electoral promises around the #Metoo movement and respect for women? Why did he say that this was an attack on French art and culture?

L'effacement (Cancel Culture)

Understandably some of the debate questions whether due to the nature of accusations whether Depardieu's work should be "cancelled". They consider the reach he has from Cyrano to Les Valseuses to Asterix and what the impact would be of removing these films from French art. the debate then goes on to discuss the difference between Depardieu as the actor and Depardieu as a person. 

A definition of cancel culture is given and comparisons are drawn with the United States and also the recent case involving Kevin Spacey. The debate ranges from book burning in the Nazi era to the renaming of streets and quartiers associated with slavery. 

L'Aigle Noir

Whilst the discussion takes place images in the background show various placards held up by protestors. One reads "Rideau Depardieu" which is pretty self-explanatory. Another reads "Gérard L'Aigle Noir C'est Toi". This is a reference to the song "L'aigle noir" by a very prominent artist; "Barbara" in 1970 that is believed to have been about sexual assault. 

Les Valseues

Les Valseuses was the film that first brought Depardieu to prominence in 1974. It is referenced by the commentators throughout the discussion. As an important cultural reference here is a link to the Wikipedia page about the film.

A note about expressing an opinion in French

I find debating issues, ideas and ideologies in French intriguing. I like the way that arguments are built, evidenced and then considered by the other party. I find this whole debate around Depardieu refreshing. The issues are being discussed head on, the key players are able to make their positions known and it seems that real discussion is happening. 

This is something that I really enjoyed about French culture when I lived there. I will be following this saga as it develops and plays out and, if you are interested, I hope you feel equipped to do so too.
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