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Tribute To A Gallic Bad Boy

 

Wednesday, August 8---------There is no equivalent in the United States.....the actor Gerard Depardieu is a truly French phenomenon, a pasty-faced, barrel-chested, unpolished, roughly handsome leading man, who somehow is an enduring Gallic sex symbol. He does not have the sensual prettiness of an Alain Delon, the rail-thin sex appeal of a Jean-Paul Belmondo or the intelligent visage of a Yves Montand. He is, in fact, his own unique creation, and his enduring appeal in French cinema is mostly about his sheer physicality and powerful acting chops. Well, to sample what makes this "mec" so mesmerizing, film audiences can head to the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, which is in the midst of a 20-film mini-retrospective of the actor, France's best known "bad boy". 

The series is entitled TOUGH AND TENDER: The Films of  Gérard Depardieu, and that sums up the appeal of one of cinema's natural-born talents. In a career that began in the 1970s and continues apace, he has made nearly 170 appearances in both film and television roles, working with such stellar directors as Alain Resnais, François Truffaut, Maurice Pialat, André Téchiné, Marguerite Duras and many more. He is one of the few French actors who is regularly cast in European co-productions (his name quite bankable in the rest of Europe) and who has even made the odd Hollywood film or two (the best being GREEN CARD, a confection from Peter Weir).

Depardieu is to European cinema in the ‘70s what Brando was to American cinema in the ‘50s,” Kent Jones, the series programmer expressed. "He was able to connect to and represent the whole gamut of European males: tough guy, stud, intellectual, bourgeois, anarchic rebel, hedonist." His rise to movie stardom was, by no means, pre-ordained. Born in Chateâuroux , France, in 1948—the third of six children to an alcoholic, illiterate father—Depardieu dropped out of school early and ran away from home as a teenager. He worked odd jobs before taking to theft, which led to a short stay in prison. It was not until a friend supposedly convinced Depardieu to audition for the Theatre Nationale Populaire in Paris that he found acting, excelling alongside soon-to-be friends and future co-stars Patrick Dewaere and Miou-Miou. The young actor broke into both film and television in the mid-1960s by playing character roles that somewhat reflected his disreputable past.

In 1974, Depardieu found his signature role.....a street tough who pillages his way across France with buddy Patrick Dewaere in director Bertrand Blier’s GOING PLACES. The film was an international sensation and one of the most controversial in France up to that day. The actor made a strong impression as a physically impressive person of the streets, who could be capable of both endearing tenderness and remarkable violence, at practically the same moment. The 1970s was a golden period for the actor, who went on to memorable performances opposite Bulle Ogier in Barbet Schroder's still controversial MAITRESSE, and Isabelle Adjani in BAROCCO. He collaborated again with Blier for GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS, which won the Oscar that year as Best Foreign Film.

By the 1980s and 1990s, Depardieu left behind his tough guy persona and transformed into France's leading actor and best known male film personality. He won several major international prizes, including the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1990); the Cesar Award for both CYRANO and Francois Truffaut's elegy to the French Occupation, THE LAST METRO (1981) opposite Catherine Deneuve; and the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival for Maurice Pialat's POLICE (1985). For his performance in CYRANO DE BERGERAC, Depardieu was nominated for an Oscar, one of the few French thespians ever to do so. Although he announced his intention to retire from screen acting in 2005 to concentrate on his various business enterprises (including a Loire Valley vineyard, Cuban oil wells and two Parisian restaurants), he now appears in films as a kind of special added attraction. He has a brief role as the early mentor of Edith Piaf in the Oscar-bound LA VIE EN ROSE, currently in distribution. He has nearly a dozen projects coming out in the next 2 years....hardly the retirement that he announced with great fanfare. Pushing 60, he has not entirely shaken off his "bad boy" image. In 1990, he received a suspended jail sentence for drunk driving and was back in court this past June in Florence, Italy for a head-butt attack on a photographer two years ago.

While this film series is hardly exhaustive, and leaves out a number of the actor's most piquant performances, it does reflect some of his best known and most respected work from the past three decades. This weekend, filmgoers can relish his performances in such diverse films as BUFFET FROID, GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS, LOULOU, THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR, THE LAST METRO, DANTON and I WANT TO GO HOME....an astonishingly diverse body of work. For more information on the series, which runs through Sunday, August 19, visit the website of the Film Society of Lincoln Center: www.filmlinc.com

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor

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