Correction Appended Jan. 9, 2013
The spectacularly dysfunctional relationship between movie star Gérard Depardieu and his native France became even more troubled Jan. 8, when the actor snubbed a Paris court waiting to try him on drunk-driving charges. That pointed no-show follows Depardieu’s controversial decision in December to take up residence in Belgium to protest rising income taxes in France and his equally surprising acceptance this month of an offer of Russian citizenship.
In fact, about the only place Depardieu isn’t getting cozy with these days is France. His failure to appear before judges in Paris on Tuesday sends his DUI charge to criminal court, meaning Depardieu now has reasons beyond high French taxes to avoid his homeland: a possible two-year prison sentence should he be convicted, for starters.
Depardieu’s Tuesday hearing was intended to be a quick judicial formality under France’s version of plea bargaining. The case arose from a minor accident Depardieu provoked Nov. 29, while allegedly piloting his scooter with what turned out to be nearly four times the legal limit of alcohol in his system. Yet rather than plead guilty and receive a modest fine as planned, Depardieu’s absence means his charges will now be sent to criminal court, where he’ll face maximum penalties of $5,850 in fines and up to two years in the clink. His recent moves have many people in France hoping judges throw the book at him.
Indeed, though he’s considered by some critics as perhaps the greatest French actor in history, Depardieu now seems to be focusing all his creative genius on ways of alienating as many of his erstwhile countrymen as possible. In December he sparked controversy by bolting France for Belgium, where he promptly requested citizenship. Once there, Depardieu denounced a planned rise in French taxes on incomes over $1.3 million to 75% — a partial remedy to France’s crisis in public finances. Depardieu then engaged in a public spat with France’s Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who called the actor’s tax exile “minable” — a term combining elements of vulgar, shabby, detestable and lame.
It was perhaps because of that slight that Depardieu did not relent when France’s constitutional watchdog struck down the pending 75% tax hike. Instead, the 64-year-old actor sprinted eastward to accept a newly minted passport offered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The republic of Mordovia — a federal subject of Russia southeast of Moscow, long infamous as Gulag Central — reportedly even offered to name him its Minister of Culture.
With dismayed French fans no longer clear which nation could claim the celebrated actor as its own, Depardieu tried to explain things Monday night — from Switzerland, no less — by telling French TV channel L’Equipe 21, “I have a Russian passport, but I remain French and I will probably have dual Belgian nationality.” At this rate, he’ll be a walking U.N. unto himself by year’s end.
Before then, however, Depardieu will have to appear in Paris criminal court. And while it’s unclear which nation’s flag Depardieu will fly while waging his legal battle, he’ll have to somehow convince French authorities that the one territory he didn’t belong to that day in November was the state of intoxication.
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the geographical location of the republic of Mordovia.