lassically handsome, he ain’t. With his loutish frame and rough-hewn looks, Gerard Depardieu is nobody‘s idea of a matinee idol, yet the 44-year-old Frenchman is easily the biggest draw in European movies - some might say the only draw in European movies. After 70 films in the past two decades, it’s little wonder audiences can barely comprehend the notion of a French film without him, for he has worked with virtually all the country’s major directors and taken on a staggering variety of roles.
From his thuggish shag machine holding hormonal sway over trembling Isabelle I-Iuppert in Pialat’s Loulou or his mad bastard cop in the same director’s Police, he seems to have taken on and humanised unpleasant characters with no little relish. He added a hump for Jean de Florette, a prize proboscis for Cyrano de Bergerac, faced the gallows in The Return of Martin Guerre, camped it up as a transvestite in Tenue de Soirée and even hacked off his trusty trouser snake with an electric carving knife (to get back in touch with his
Gerard goes West—j
I 492: Conquest of Paradise marks another step towards international stardom for French phenomenon GERARD DEPARDIEU. Trevor Johnston ponders his unique appeal.
femininity, you understand) in the 1976 shocker The Last Woman. In his younger days, there seemed nothing he wouldn’t do, like helping out in an S&M brothel in Barbet Schroeder’s Maitresse by gallantly pissing on selected customers, but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for a reprise of the setpiece in Bertolucci’s I 900, where Depardieu and Robert De Niro, bollock-naked the pair of them, find their bash at a three-in-the-bed bonkerama interrupted by the young lady’s epileptic fit.
With the help and encouragement of writer/director Peter Weir, who crafted the lead part specially for him, last year’s Green Card brought Depardieu his first English language success in a Hollywood production. A Golden Globe award for that performance was soon followed by a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Cyrano, drastically upping his recognition factor in America — even if they still call him ‘Dee-par-doo’ — and making further ventures into the mainstream marketplace more than likely.
At this stage in his career then, it is still appropriate for him to set about conquering
the New World in the role of Columbus, another historical part to add to a portfolio that already includes Danton, Rodin and composer Marin Marais in the forthcoming Tous Les Matins du Monde. 1492: Conquest ofParadise, Ridley Scott’s contribution to the quincentennial ﬂurry of celluloid, casts its protagonist in tragic idealist mode. Getting the actual ocean journey over with in the first hour, Scott concentrates on the clash between Columbus‘s dream of a benevolent and egalitarian paradise and the harsher dictates of Spanish imperial enterprise. With an eye for detail that wrings new freshness from the quest for period accuracy, 1492 is a genuinely transporting experience.
‘To my mind, Columbus wasn’t a gold hunter or a gloryseeker, but a man in search of his own dream, to the point perhaps where he became obsessed by it,’ says Scott. ‘In finding the right actor to play him, we were looking for someone who could convey that passion. Gerard’s such a physical presence and a very passionate character himself, so he was exactly what we wanted. What you see on screen is pretty much what you get off screen. He’s one of the boys, really.’
Like a lot of his movies, 1492 can’t help but indulge Depardieu‘s apparently innate swashbuckling exuberance as he dashes
l a II l
Isabelle Huppert in Madame Bovary
Alan Morrison takes a look at the works by Depardieu and his fellow countrymen on offer at the UK’s first French Film Festival.
n 1990. the French film industry financed 146 feature films and. despite appearances to the contrary. not all ofthem starred Gerard Depardieu. What is true. however. is that only about a dozen ofthem got past the white cliffs of Dover and onto British cinema screens. To redress this balance and overcome the problems of European film distribution. the UK‘s first French Film Festival was born. In all. eighteen films never seen in Britain before will play in a week-long bash running concurrently in Glasgow and Edinburgh. One imagines that ifour Gallic friends held a reciprocal Scottish Film Festival. they might pass a pleasant afternoon.
‘So much of French cinema, to the majority ofthe UK public. is Gerard Depardieu.‘ says Richard Mowe. co-director of the Festival with fellow journalist Allan Ilunter. ‘He was instrumental in opening up French movies to the mass market -— Cyrano de Bergerac was the first subtitled film to play the
multiplexes. llis latest. Mon I’ere. ('e Heros. is a light comedy. the type of ‘boulevard‘ film that the French go to see on a Saturday night and. as such. is a valid aspect of French cinema. The Festival as a whole seeks to throw the focus wider than the Cvranos and the Delicalessens in an effort to prompt a more varied cross section offilms to make it across the channel.‘
The films that make up the Festival certainly do embrace a wide variety of styles. as well as placing big-name directors (Jean-Jacques Beineix. Claude (‘habrol) and stars (Catherine Deneuve. Richard Bohringer) in the programme alongside talented newcomers. Not only that. but major new releases are supplemented by some long unavailable works from master i filmmakers. Tandem. the 1987 buddy movie by Patrice Leconte (the predecessor to Monsieur Hire and The H airdresser's Husband ), and Prepare: Vos Mouchoirs (in which Bertrand Blier reunited Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere. the stars of his earliel
Les Valseuses) will surely be Festival
6 The List2‘3 oéibiaéi L‘s November 1992