Public Letter Defends Depardieu After Assault Allegations

Over 50 actors, artists and other celebrities in France have issued a letter ardently defending Gérard Depardieu, the actor accused of sexual harassment and assault, calling him the victim of a “lynching” and arguing that he should be able to continue working despite a storm of criticism.

“We can no longer remain silent in the face of the lynching that has descended upon him, in the face of the torrent of hatred that is being heaped upon his person, without nuance,” they declared in the letter, which was published on Monday by the newspaper Le Figaro. The letter was signed by 56 people, some of them prominent cultural figures, and other lesser-known personalities.

They included the actresses Nathalie Baye, Charlotte Rampling and Carole Bouquet — one of Mr. Depardieu’s former partners — as well as the actors Jacques Weber and Pierre Richard; Roberto Alagna, the opera tenor; Carla Bruni, the singer and former first lady of France; and Bertrand Blier, the director whose 1974 film “Going Places” vaulted Mr. Depardieu to fame.

The letter came less than a week after President Emmanuel Macron of France mounted his own staunch defense of Mr. Depardieu and condemned a “manhunt” against him, prompting swift shock and bewilderment from French feminists.

While the accusations against Mr. Depardieu have been growing for years, much of the criticism against the actor was recently blown into the open by a French television documentary that aired this month on France 2 television. The documentary showed Mr. Depardieu making extremely crude sexual and sexist comments during a 2018 trip to North Korea.

In interviews with the media this year, over a dozen women have accused him of groping, harassing or sexually assaulting them and making inappropriate sexual remarks. He has been charged with rape and sexual assault in one case, involving Charlotte Arnould, a French actress.

Mr. Depardieu, 74, has categorically denied any wrongdoing, and he has not been convicted in connection with any of the accusations.

In a rare public comment, Mr. Depardieu told RTL radio on Tuesday that he had not initiated the letter published in Le Figaro or asked for any expression of public support. But he said he had seen the letter ahead of publication and approved of it.

“I think those who signed it were very brave,” said Mr. Depardieu, who was once France’s most prominent leading man.

Making no mention of the recent documentary or of the women who have accused Mr. Depardieu, the letter praises him as “probably the greatest of actors” and as a “genius” who has made France shine worldwide.

“When one attacks Gérard Depardieu in this way, it is art that one is attacking,” the letter said, arguing, as Mr. Macron did last week, that Mr. Depardieu was presumed innocent.

But the letter went far beyond an expression of sympathy for the embattled actor or a reminder that French courts had not ruled against him. Instead, it made a fervent plea for him to continue acting and filming.

“To go without this great actor would be a tragedy, a defeat,” the letter insists. “The death of art.”

The letter was yet another sign of the complicated reaction to the #MeToo movement in France.

In 2018, a letter signed by more than 100 French women, including the actress Catherine Deneuve, argued that supporters of the #MeToo movement had gone too far by publicly prosecuting private experiences and creating what it called a totalitarian climate detrimental to artistic creation.

The #MeToo reckoning with sexism has been hailed by French feminist groups. But it continues to fuel worries that the country is importing from America what some believe are puritanical sexual mores and “cancel culture” — a view that has been challenged by younger generations of French actors.

Emmanuelle Dancourt, the president of #MeTooMedia, a group that advocates against sexism and sexual violence in the media, said on Tuesday that this generational gap was on clear display with the letter in Le Figaro, which was signed almost exclusively by people over 50.

It’s “the old movie world,” Ms. Dancourt told the BFMTV news channel, adding that she was “appalled because I feel like there is a misunderstanding.”

“On the one hand I understand what they are trying to do, they love Gérard Depardieu, they admire the actor — but so do I,” she said. “There are many movies with Gérard Depardieu that I like a lot, we aren’t saying we have to cancel his movies and all that he has done.”

But “acts denounced by victims” must also be taken into account, she said.

The France 2 documentary that aired this month includes interviews with four women who accuse Mr. Depardieu of inappropriate comments or sexual misconduct, including Ms. Arnould and Hélène Darras, an actress who says he sexually assaulted her on a 2008 film set and who filed a suit against him in September.

But the documentary also kicked up a new storm of criticism of the actor because of the previously unseen footage of Mr. Depardieu on a 2018 trip to North Korea, where he had been invited for the country’s 70th anniversary. In it, Mr. Depardieu repeatedly blurts crass comments about women, sometimes to their face, using graphic language to describe their physical appearance and to refer to their genitals and to his own.

“Go ahead, take the picture while I touch the ass,” Mr. Depardieu says in one scene where a guide takes a picture of him with several people, including a woman sitting next to him.

In the documentary, Mr. Depardieu uses explicit sexual language about a girl, who the documentary says is about 10 years old, riding a horse. Mr. Depardieu’s family had accused the documentary of misleadingly editing that specific scene, but France Télévisions said last week that there was “no doubt and no ambiguity” about the images and that they were authenticated by an expert review of the raw footage.