Fifty figures from the French entertainment world signed an open letter published Monday defending actor Gérard Depardieu as he faces more than a dozen rape and sexual assault allegations spanning two decades. Most of the accusations have come from those he worked with, with one actress saying his reputation in the film industry is well known and well-deserved. “Anyone who has ever worked with him knows he assaults women,” she said.
Calling Depardieu the “last sacred monster of cinema”, the letter says its signatories “can no longer remain silent in the face of a lynching” and calls on judicial authorities to grant Depardieu the “presumption of innocence that he would enjoy, like everyone else, if he were not the giant of cinema that he is”.
French singer and former first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and English actress Charlotte Rampling were among the signatories to the open letter, which was published in Le Figaro on Christmas Day, along with French Bond girl Carole Bouquet, who was in a relationship with Depardieu for almost a decade starting in 1996.
The letter comes almost a week after French President Emmanuel Macron sparked outrage by saying he thought Depardieu, 75, was the victim of a “manhunt” amid new assault allegations that emerged this month.
Years of allegations
Depardieu’s legal troubles began in earnest in February 2021, when he was charged with rape and sexual assault allegedly committed in 2018 against actress Charlotte Arnould at his home in Paris. According to a source close to the case, Depardieu was a friend of the actress’s family.
She filed a complaint in the summer of 2018 when she was 22, saying she had been raped twice by Depardieu at his Paris mansion a few days earlier. Depardieu, who was placed under formal investigation in December 2020, denies the accusations.
More than a dozen more women came forward in April 2023 with allegations of sexual assault spanning two decades. The French investigative website Mediapart found that 13 additional women had come forward to accuse Depardieu of molesting them on the set of 11 films or series, or in other locations off set, between 2004 and 2022.
The accusations ranged from “a hand in underwear, on the crotch, on the buttocks or on the breasts” to “obscene sexual remarks” and “insistent grunts”, Mediapart reported.
Even when the alleged abuse happened on set and in front of witnesses, film crews often laughed it off when the women complained, saying it was just the actor’s way, the site’s investigation found.
None of the 13 women have filed official complaints, Mediapart said, but three have given testimony to judicial authorities.
Depardieu has denied the allegations.
The actor came under renewed fire early this month after a documentary aired on France 2 television showing him making lewd comments about a small girl on horseback and openly discussing his penis on a 2018 trip to North Korea.
Indignation and disgust over video of Gérard Depardieu spouting lewd comments
That same week, French actress Hélène Darras accused Depardieu of assaulting her while filming a movie in 2007. She told France 2 that Depardieu groped and propositioned her when she was an extra in the film “Disco”:
He “ran his hand over my thighs and my buttocks” before asking, “‘Do you want to come to my dressing room?’,” Darras recounted. Even after rejecting his advances, she said, “He kept groping me between takes.”
In mid-December, a Spanish journalist said Depardieu had raped her nearly 30 years ago in Paris, telling AFP she filed a criminal complaint with Spanish police. She said the rape happened when she interviewed the actor in 1995 for Cinemania magazine.
Allegations – or perhaps admissions – of Depardieu’s role in raping women have been circulating for more than 40 years.
In a 1978 interview in Film Comment magazine, Depardieu described his difficult childhood and was quoted as saying, “I had plenty of rapes, too many to count.”
Time magazine asked Depardieu whether he had participated in these rapes in a 1991 feature story and Depardieu said he had. “But it was absolutely normal in those circumstances,” he added.
The Time coverage sparked outrage in the United States but did not seem to dim Depardieu’s star in his homeland, with several French political figures turning out to voice support for the actor. Then minister of culture Jack Lang called it a “low blow” targeting one of France’s “great actors”. Some said it was part of a conspiracy to undermine Depardieu’s chance at an Oscar – despite his chances at an Oscar being slim to none at the time.
“In France, where sex is treated more casually and public figures are protected more carefully by the press, the brouhaha was seen as another example of American prudishness,” Time wrote.
Depardieu later denied making the remarks and threatened to sue the magazine, but Time refused to retract its reporting, saying the comments had been tape recorded.
Actress Anouk Grinberg, who has known Depardieu for decades, spoke out for the first time in October, saying his proclivities were an open secret in the industry.
“Anyone who has ever worked with him knows he assaults women,” Grinberg, 60, told Elle magazine, adding that people refrained from denouncing him for fear it would hurt their careers.
Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak said in mid-December that the actor’s behaviour “shames France”, noting that Depardieu is at risk of being stripped of his Legion of Honour, the country’s top civilian award.
But asked about the controversy last week, French President Emmanuel Macron became the latest high-level official to come to Depardieu’s defence. Asked in a wide-ranging interview whether the actor should be stripped of his Légion d’Honneur, Macron said he thought Depardieu was the victim of a “manhunt”.
“You will never see me take part in a manhunt. I hate that kind of thing,” he said, adding: “The presumption of innocence is part of our values.”
One French feminist collective said Macron’s comments were “an insult” to all women who had suffered sexual violence but “first and foremost, [to] those who accused Depardieu”. Another called the president’s remarks “not just scandalous, but also dangerous”.
Green party MP Sandrine Rousseau remarked that “Macron has picked his side – that of the aggressors.”
Escape into acting
Depardieu became a star in France starting in the 1970s and ’80s with roles in “The Last Metro” and “Jean de Florette” followed by “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Green Card”, which made him a Hollywood celebrity after he won the Golden Globe best actor award for the role. He later appeared in other international productions, including Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” and Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi”.
Depardieu grew up in extreme poverty as the third of six children, the son of an illiterate and alcoholic metal worker father. By his own account he mixed with bad company, hanging out with prostitutes before working as a rent boy and committing various crimes. At 16 he landed in jail for stealing a car.
Acting proved his salvation, with money as the main motivating factor. He started on stage in Paris in 1965 and his breakout film came nearly a decade later when he played a ruffian in the erotic comedy “Going Places”.
Despite his successes, Depardieu’s private life ran the gamut from drunk driving offences to one particularly notorious episode involving urinating in the aisle of a plane.
Depardieu has also come under fire in the past for his support of Russia. He left France in 2013 and received Russian citizenship to protest against a tax hike on the rich being proposed at the time. Depardieu has often praised Russia, calling it a “great democracy”, and lauded President Vladimir Putin, whom he has compared to late pope John Paul II. Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, however, he denounced Putin’s “crazy, unacceptable excesses” in his prosecution of the war.
Depardieu has had four children with three different partners, the longest relationship being with Élisabeth, an actress whom he married in 1970 and divorced in 2006.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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