L’affaire Depardieu / The Depardieu affair, by Sonja Stojanovic

The actor Gérard Depardieu has given back his French passport and is moving to Belgium to avoid paying taxes. This is a gross simplification of what has sparked a polemical debate in French cultural and political circles.

Philippe Torreton, another French actor, in a virulent column published on December 17, 2012 in the French newspaper Libération calls out Depardieu on his fiscal exile.

The column addresses Depardieu using the informal you “tu” instead of the polite and more formal “vous” and attacks him using lines from Depardieu’s famous film, the adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac; he accuses him of leaving his country in the midst of a crisis.

catherine deneuve in fur coat
This column sparked a response from French actress Catherine Deneuve who took to writing a column published on December 20, 2012 also in Libération, entitled “Monsieur Torreton”. According to her, she not so much defends Depardieu as scolds Torreton for his pettiness and debasing words. Then, she finishes her short piece with a dramatic “What would you have done in 1789, [to think of it] my body is still trembling” and the oft quoted statement about tolerance taken from Voltaire.

Also jumping on the bandwagon is Laurence Parisot, the president of the MEDEF, France’s largest employers’ union. She remarks that the current politics are reminiscent of a climate of “civil war” and aligns herself with Deneuve. “I say like Catherine Deneuve said this morning in Libération, we have the feeling today that one is looking to recreate something that is relating to 1789, one needs to realize how insufferable this is for many talented people and this is why they are pushed to leaving, let’s not invert the order of things”.

Why bring up 1789? Who is exactly this (new) nobility and why is their (fiscal) exile something to accept / defend / deplore? Since when is the super rich paying taxes viewed as something negative – revolutionarily speaking? And why would Deneuve tremble at the thought of 1789? Both she and Depardieu would have been part of the Third Estate back then. Are the French starting to regret the legacies of the French Revolution?

What do you think?

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