French native Gérard Depardieu is now a Russian citizen. Vladimir Putin offered the actor the citizenship when the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called Gérard Depardieu “minable” (third-rate) after heated fiscal arguments that followed the presidential election of the socialist candidate Mr. Hollande.
Gérard Depardieu’s flamboyance has earned him a controversial reputation. Yet since I live in the US, any American I met who wanted to show me he knew about French cinema would always give me two names: Gérard Depardieu and Jean-Claude Van Damme – I specified that the latest was not French but Belgian (ironically Belgium was another country that Mr. Depardieu considered for exile).
Like him or not, Mr. Depardieu is indeed a French cinema iconic figure. And as an actor he deserves the recognition. His many roles made of him one of the big names of the movie industry, in France and abroad.
So, yes, for the Prime Minister, to call him a pathetic loser was uncalled for and could only infuriate a man who is, on and off the screen, larger than life.
What interests me the most in this story is how the French people are reacting.
Almost all are infuriated that one of the most renowned French actors gives away his French citizenship and harsh comments matching the tone of the Prime Minister describe Gérard Depardieu’s decision.
Okay, his choice to leave France for Russia is controversial considering Putin’s record when it comes to human rights. Incidentally Mr. Depardieu will probably get an apartment in Mordovia, where two members of the band Pussy Riot are now jailed, which adds up to a disputable choice.
Yet, it is a paradox that the French who do so little to make residents (natives, naturalized and immigrants alike) feel welcome in France, can react with such outrage when one of them takes the decision to leave.
As a French native who left France to become years later an American citizen, I vividly remember my personal process of naturalization, which I found emotionally meaningful. Did Mr. Depardieu feel the same way? Only he can tell.
“People from all over the world come to this country (the USA) and, almost magically, become Americans,” wrote Fareed Zakaria in the Times Magazine.
I can only agree with him. I felt American before my naturalization. There is indeed something special in this country that makes all of us want to be part of it as soon as we set foot on the American soil.
And I must say that it is not something that happens in France. Not instantly. Not necessarily.
The ultimate question remains the same. “What makes us citizen of a certain country?”