Ello. It’s AiteVer again. Did you miss me? Did you notice I was gone? Well, I guess you were in good company anyway, thanks to fpman, my colleague over here and a cousin apparently, too 🙂
Anyhow, while I was busy upgrading my status in academia [sic!], the globe was shaken [very sic!] by the news that Gérard Depardieu can drink or drinks up to 14 bottles of wine a day. In my opinion, it is quite a shame that this is the one snippet that swept the news world as it was taken out of some truly remarkable context: from an interview that’s filled with astonishing statements such as
‘Putin is a simple guy, a former KGB agent who was long imprisoned in Vienna’
‘Do you think that if I was egocentric I could approach Jean-Paul II, Mitterrand, Castro, Putin, and all those kinds of people? I don’t care about having an ego. ‘
I guess these days it isn’t really news when a celebrity takes up a second job advertising other people’s stuff or starts his or her own business. It can be especially true for those who are over their prime time in showbiz. As for Depardieu, he has done all of these. Before his abandonment of his status as French cultural god and becoming a ‘tax refugee’, he was known to own a vineyard and other businesses in France, and he gave his name to basically anything, whether it was ketchup, Azeri cuisine or an Armenian air company, naturally regardless of politics. Well, regardless of politics at least as long as the politics of certain policies didn’t affect him personally…
The change came into his life with the introduction of a temporary 75% income tax in 2012 by the French government that was levied on people earning more than a million euros. He first moved to Belgium and was subsequently granted Russian citizenship by a presidential decree on January 1, 2013. What’s changed since? Little – and maybe some, I would argue.
He’s admittedly into ‘living a life of excess’ just as much today as pre-tax-scandal, and he still lives the dual life of a high-profile actor and successful businessman. Nonetheless, he now also plays in a movie whose plot is rather reminiscent of the DSK scandal, in a patriotic Kazakh film, and lately in a Russian movie set partly in Chechnya, too. Added to this, his Russian businesses include a chain of restaurants present in major Russian cities, as well as a line of organic vodka. Also, he has appeared in a Kazakh commercial advertising Eurasian Bank’s special VIP card that is ‘elaborated with a pure gold pattern and 0.02 carat genuine diamond’ and in a video with Gulnara Karimova (of whom we already wrote on this blog) – to further illustrate the diversity of his impressive portfolio. Altogether, we can assume that whatever he is doing, he must be really successful in it, considering the expenses it must take to sponsor his daily 14 bottles of quality alcohol, ‘whenever he’s bored.’
In vino veritas (source)
The notable part from a political point of view is that his post-career career has brought him onto a slippery slope. As a symbol of the West from a certain perspective, whatever he says resonates loudly. Even though Depardieu’s love for Russia perhaps did not start with acquiring citizenship, it definitely has given him room to voice his ideas on international politics. He started his new career as a proud Russian by calling the country a ‘great democracy’ and then went on to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin on multiple occasions. And as the dominant political narrative of events in Ukraine has increasingly focused on a conflict with the West in Russia, the role of the well-known French national symbol has grown in parallel.
Of course, there is some importance of his Russianness in the Europe he left behind, too. Firstly, his departure left a mark on France, as he was one of the most famous exports of the country. Secondly, his stance towards Putin is quite controversial, as signaled by the large amount of questions he receives from western media.
Still, his presence in Russia is possibly much more important for the host country itself, which, given his presence in the Russian press, has clearly been recognized by Russian decision-makers too. For example, according to Russian media, on a trip to Serbia he recently praised the people there for not supporting the EU sanctions against Russia, while in an interview about his new movie Viktor, he hastily explained Ukrainian history by saying the western half used to be Polish and the eastern half Russian, even though he quickly added that he isn’t too competent in politics to talk about it…
Depardieu is now, for all its worth, a (proud) Russian citizen. He pays lower taxes, he’s involved in local business and he’s a friend of Putin. On the other hand, he still is an international superstar and that continues to work in his favor financially. When he was asked why he’s still in business, he replied:
‘I have to make a living, and besides, I do other things too. Cinema is not the only thing I do, luckily. I hang out with artists, I travel, I’m into cuisine, and wine, I go and visit dictators…or so they say!’
If I have to take a guess he probably meant to be kidding with the last part but he definitely hit the spot. Of course we will never know if he says his pro-Kremlin remarks out of political conviction (to which he is entitled) or because of his current business interests (to which he is also entitled) but there is one thing for certain. Whatever he says can reach the masses easily. And the issue isn’t really whatever we think about his competence to talk politics but that when he and others praise Putin for his actions in Ukraine, they make loud judgments over issues by which they are not the least affected… Or, more exactly, if they are affected it is not in the way the people in Ukraine are affected. Depardieu is a Russian citizen, and being there has commercially benefitted him greatly. As long as he remains the friend of the Boss, this isn’t expected to change significantly.