The famous French actor Gerard Depardieu is in the news after having received from Putin the Russian citizenship. As most people know, Depardieu said he would give up his French citizenship and move away to protest against the taxes of up to 75% to the rich that the current socialist president, Monsieur Hollande, wanted to institute.
Indeed, 75% seems a bit extreme, even for the French. But I don’t want to talk about that, I want to talk about Depardieu. An actor lately more famous for his drunken behaviour in planes, he however is a cinema icon, perhaps the greatest icon from France. “I’m still big, it’s the pictures that got small”, said Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Well, Depardieu got bigger and bigger, at least in size, to the point that he could portray Obelix a few years ago, but it is also true that French pictures, in general, got smaller and less interesting. But that is hardly Depardieu’s fault.
I remembered Depardieu in Truffaut’s “The Last Metro” and “The Other Woman”, and also in the 1990s version of “Cyrano de Bergerac”. But it was only yesterday that I watched “Les Valseuses”, in English called “Going Places”, the film that first made him famous in France. (To be honest, I watched the movie not for Depardieu but because I knew that there was a scene in which Miou-Miou appeared naked, but Depardieu was the second reason.)
It is a pretty strange film, a film from another era; a film that intended to be and was certainly shocking at the time, but that now comes to us tinted with a certain melancholia, or at least it so seemed to me, maybe because the France from that time doesn’t exist anymore. Or maybe because that was a time when still it was possible to scandalize audience with outrageous scenes, and that is really no longer possible anymore, at least not to the same extent.
Some say that the film is a criticism of the hedonism, empty rebellion and self-absorbed navel-gazing of the 70s generation; it could be, but it could also be a celebration of it, I really don’t know. The film is pretty ambiguous about it.
I am not sure I would recommend anyone to watch it, especially to conservative readers. It is a very French film. There is a lot of sex and a little, but not too much, violence. There is no coherent plot and hardly any story. On the other hand, besides Depardieu and Patrick Deawere as the two young ruffians and Miou-Miou as their companion, there is Jeanne Moreau in a wonderful short performance and a very young and beautiful Isabelle Huppert in one of her first screen appearances.
I don’t know how Blier managed to do it, but the film, which starts being about two very disagreeable characters who seem only interested in crimes and sex, ends up in the second part becoming quite funny, lyrical and melancholy at the same time. Maybe it’s the music, which remains in your head after the end. Or maybe it’s something else. Who knows?
As for Depardieu today, I doubt that he will end up going anywhere, and since the French government is giving signals that it might change its law, he might even remain in the country. But maybe not: French people are not too happy at his “desertion”, and Russia, very far from Communist days, apparently has a flat tax rate of only 13%, which is pretty tempting even for people who don’t make as much money as Depardieu.