Obelix goes to Belgium
by Adrian Tahourdin
Poor old Gérard. He’s been getting a bad press over the past few days. I guess anyone who reads a newspaper will be familiar with Depardieu’s dispute with the French government over his decision to relocate to Belgium.
For anybody who is not: next year François Hollande’s Socialist government will introduce its 75 per cent tax rate for those earning more than €1million per year. Depardieu, unhappy at this prospect and a declared supporter of Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, has been engaged in a slanging match with the prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who described the actor’s decision as “pathetic”. Depardieu published an open letter to Ayrault in the widely circulated Journal du Dimanche, in which he offered to hand in his passport.
Le Monde sent two of its reporters, Florence Aubenas and Geoffroy Deffrennes, to the rue du Cherche-Midi in the sixth arrondissement of Paris where Depardieu has a townhouse he is threatening to sell and to the town of Néchin, just inside the Belgian border - and his new home, on the rue Reine-Astrid. The actor is prominent and popular in the rue du Cherche-Midi, owning two restaurants there, and on first-name terms with most of the shop-owners. He’s even taken steps to keep chain-stores away.
Rue Reine-Astrid in Néchin looks and sounds dreary. Even Google Street View can’t sex it up. The town is surrounded by beet fields - it’s a “flat and dull landscape”. But quite a number of French citizens live there and work in Lille, just over the border.
Has the strong French response to Depardieu’s decision something to do with the fact that the actor has chosen Belgium, traditionally the butt of all French jokes? It’s not a stylish move. After all, the equally starry and hyper-French Alain Delon has lived in Switzerland since 1999 and no one, I’m sure, has objected to that lifestyle choice.
Depardieu is France’s most prolific male star, with over 180 films to his name - from the early Les Valseuses (1974), to the Asterix and Obelix series. Les Valseuses (which featured Depardieu and the late Patrick Dewaere, above), directed by Bertrand Blier and also starring Jeanne Moreau, is possibly one of the most politically incorrect films ever made. I thought it was very funny when I saw it many years ago, but I can’t imagine it has aged well.
On the same day as the Depardieu story, Le Monde ran an editorial in which it ended up questioning the "symbolic brutality” of Hollande’s 75 per cent tax. (The paper had of course supported him in the elections in May.) Even if Depardieu does hand in his passport he’ll still be able to vote in France. It’s unlikely that he’ll be backing Hollande.