I must confess I have a soft spot for Gerard Depardieu. Make fun of him all you want—for peeing in a water bottle in a plane or for being a big French oaf—but it’s like making fun of romance novels. While you make fun, millions and millions of women around the world are devouring anything he does, just as they devour romances. Yet he is not one genre, not a romance hero, a good guy, or a bad guy, he’s just someone who has managed to make a lot of great movies over a whole lifetime. And he always manages to bring something to each movie that makes you feel it, even when it’s silly.
I can’t remember exactly which of his movies I saw first, although I suspect it was Green Card. I recently got to watch a few new ones, thanks to Amazon and Netflix. But what really started this resurgence of interest for me was reading that his son, Guillermo, passed away. I remember Guillermo vividly from Tous les Matins du Monde (All the Mornings of the World) and couldn’t believe that he had died. Then I saw that there was a movie starring both Gerard and Guillermo called A Loving Father, about a son who kidnaps his father in order to attempt a reconciliation and healing. I had to work up the courage to see that one and saved it till last.
- The Return of Martin Guerre (1982)—I start with this one because it is truly a great, horribly powerful movie where his erotic, passionate love shines the hottest. It could be I actually saw this first and was deeply moved. I still can’t even write about it without getting emotional. That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t want to be a spoiler.
- Green Card (1990)—His most famous film in America. I just watched it for a third time with my middle child, who, yes, kept making fun of me for liking Gerard Depardieu. Suffice it to say…she liked it!
- Camille Claudel (1988)—I am a sucker for any movie about a woman artist or writer. This was a good one. Depardieu plays Rodin, the sculptor and lover of Camille Claudel, who never quite got the recognition she deserved for the obvious female historic reasons. Worth watching.
- Too Beautiful for You (1989)—A movie about a man who chooses to have an affair with a plain woman rather than stay loyal to his beautiful wife. Very slow, French, smart, and moody. What makes us love and desire someone? That is the question.
- Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)—Classic fun, well done.
- Vatel (2000)—Fascinating, beautiful—like a living painting: Depardieu plays the steward for a prince planning a party for Louis the XIV. Uma Thurman plays an interesting role.
- Changing Times (2004)—One of my favorites, and the most French of the French movies. He plays a man pining for his old lover, who is now married to a doctor. Very complicated, but when Catherine Deneuve is playing his old flame, what’s not to love?
- Last Holiday (2006)—This just goes to show what a great actor he is, that he can star in a totally cheesy American movie starring Queen Latifah and—is that LL Cool J? Get out!—and make it feel worth it. I forced myself to watch this one just to see how bad it could get, and it wasn’t too bad.
- My Father the Hero (1994)—This was the first one I watched with my 15-year-old. Katherine Heigl plays his teenage daughter who wants him to pretend he’s her boyfriend/lover…crazy, stupid, French stuff. But please, wait until the end when you see who is on the other end of the phone! It made me cry with joy.
- A Loving Father (2002)—A sad way to end a film festival, but what a treat to capture the real pain, sadness, and rage of a real parent-child relationship. At the end of the day, even actors are human, and you can see how someone who has spent a lifetime playing other people can have a very hard time being real and being there for his family.
I believe there are at least another 20 to 40 movies that I haven’t mentioned and haven’t seen. I don’t know if I’ll watch them all, but I’m glad to know they are there. When I look at this list, I realize one of the things I like about Depardieu is that he plays complicated people. He’s not like those American actors who either play an action hero or a goofball, or who get into characters for an Oscar attempt. You can see him approaching each role as if it’s who he is, for the love of it. And that’s what makes me feel the love right back at him.