France 2013 in Review: Gerard Depardieu's Russian Passport, Actors' Pay Make Headlines

1:48 AM PST 01/03/2014 by Rhonda Richford
"Blue Is the Warmest Color"

Crimes on the Croisette and a public battle between the director and lead actress of Cannes winner "Blue Is the Warmest Color" also attracted much media attention.

France's film and entertainment industry saw several high-profile public debates in 2013.

Fueled by the French love of the open letter, Wild Bunch head Vincent Maraval released a public takedown of the French cinema system that started a broad-based discussion on film funding.

Meanwhile, once-beloved actor Gerard Depardieu became a Russian citizen after a public battle with the government over taxes, and Blue Is the Warmest Color won the top award at the Cannes film festival only for director Abdellatif Kechiche to attack star Lea Seydoux.

Other top entertainment industry stories of 2013 in France included the death of a contestant and suicide of the staff doctor of Koh-Lanta, the French version of Survivor, and controversial comments of Young and Beautiful director Francois Ozon on prostitution. Here is THR's closer look at the top French news from the industry in 2013:

Are French Actors Overpaid?
Vincent Maraval, head of French film production and distribution power player Wild Bunch, kicked off a year of controversy at the very end of 2012 with an open letter in the newspaper Le Monde calling the state of the French film industry a "disaster." He laid much of the blame at the feet of French actors that command Hollywood-sized salaries while French films are floundering at home and abroad.

"French actors are rich with public money," he said, calling out such stars as Vincent Cassel, Jean Reno, Marion Cotillard, Guillaume Canet, Audrey Tautou and Lea Seydoux for commanding millions in French films while lowering their rates for high-profile American films.

January saw almost daily responses -- in television interviews and in more open letters -- from celebrities such as popular comedian Dany Boon, who revealed his pay rate and production budgets for various films to deflect criticism, award-winning actor Francois Berleand and popular rapper-turned-actor Joey Starr.

The debate will continue into 2014 as France continues to reexamine its publicly funded financing system in the wake of budget cuts.

Blue Is the Warmest Color wins in Cannes, while director and lead actress engage in war of words
During the festival, Blue Is the Warmest Color director Abdellatif Kechiche's directing methods were called into question in Le Monde, with members of the production decrying epically long shoots and brutal work conditions. Star Lea Seydoux agreed with that assessment in several interviews, citing the director's need for several retakes and calling the production "horrible." She said she would never work with him again.

The pair ended up going back and forth in the media, with Kechiche at one point saying the movie should not be released and culminating with him publishing an open letter attacking Le Monde and, most scathingly, his star for her "slanderous" statements about the movie.

In the letter, he called Seydoux an "arrogant spoiled child" and said that she was dragging his name through the mud as part of a prolonged effort to keep her name in the news. Kechiche said that her comments amounted to fraud and slander and indicated that he would sue her, saying, "It is for her to explain in court," though no suit has been filed so far.

If it was Seydoux's intention to keep herself and the film in the news, it worked. She landed several magazine covers in France and abroad, including the relaunch cover of French men's magazine Lui, as well as a high-profile fashion campaign for Miu Miu with co-star Adele Exarchopoulos.

The controversy certainly didn't hurt the film at the French box office. The nearly three-hour film sold 261,000 tickets in its first week of release on 285 screens, and more than 738,000 since its October release. It is sure to get another boost from Cesar nominations that will be announced at the end of January, and it garnered a Golden Globe nomination.

But Europeans may have experienced the blues over the ongoing battle. While the film was widely expected to sweep the European Film Awards, it came home empty-handed, bested by Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty.

Cannes Crimes Rock the Croisette
The Cannes film festival was rocked by several crimes ranging from million-dollar jewelry thefts from high-end brands Chopard and De Grisogono to villa break-ins. Plus, a local man brandishing a fake gun during a television taping with Christoph Waltz also left the Croisette on edge in May.

The city then became the site of the biggest jewel heist in French history when the famed Carlton hotel was robbed of $138 million in July, calling local security into question.

In the cinematic heist, thieves strolled into a jewelry exhibit in the lobby of the Carlton hotel and walked out with over $100 million worth of gems less than five minutes later. Interpol suspected the Carlton crime was the work of the infamous Pink Panther gang. It is still being investigated.

The film festival week was peppered with smaller-time crimes, but at least one caused an industry uproar. China Film Group vice president Zhang Qiang had his luggage stolen from his hotel room, which resulted in him canceling a press conference.

Gerard Depardieu Becomes a Russian Citizen
Once-beloved French actor Gerard Depardieu engaged in another public war of words with French government officials at the end of 2012 over a proposed 75 percent temporary tax on millionaires. Depardieu decamped to a small village just across the Belgian border and surrendered his French passport.

He then rang in 2013 by becoming a Russian citizen after president Vladimir Putin personally issued a decree granting Depardieu citizenship. The president presented him with a passport in an informal ceremony in the Black Sea town of Sochi where the Winter Olympics 2014 will be held.

The actor continued to flout French authorities, skipping hearings for a prior drunk driving charge in January and April before being found guilty in June, though he returned to his home country later in the summer to film an untitled soccer film.

Yahoo Denied DailyMotion Deal
French YouTube competitor DailyMotion backed out of a planned $300 million deal with Yahoo after government regulators objected to the move. Back in May, with the Bay Area-based online giant on a buying spree, new CEO Marissa Mayer set her sights on the French video-sharing site.

Yahoo was set to take a 75 percent stake in DailyMotion before French industrial minister Arnaud Montebourg insisted on a 50-50 split to protect one of the few homegrown Internet success stories from being devoured by an American company. Yahoo backed out of the deal.

The government was accused of economic protectionism that could lead to long-term reluctance of American and other foreign companies to invest in tech and new-media platforms in France or strike big media deals.

Survivor Contestant Dies
The March death of 25-year-old French Survivor contestant Gerald Babin from a heart attack on the first day of filming caused a national scandal for channel TF1 and production company ALP when staff members came forward with anonymous claims in magazine Closer, saying that Babin had been denied proper medical care because of cost concerns.

ALP quickly filed a libel suit against Closer, and CEO Franck Firmin-Guion as well as show host Denis Brogniart and director Julien Magne took to various news outlets to defend the production. They maintained that Babin had been given immediate medical attention by staff doctor Thierry Costa.

But the story became even more complicated when the 38-year-old veteran TV physician Costa killed himself in a hotel in Cambodia 10 days later, leaving behind a note published in the newspaper Le Parisien saying that his reputation had been "sullied" by the accusations.

Babin's family then came forward saying the doctor had acted suspiciously when they met with him in Cambodia and soon filed suit against TF1 and ALP. French authorities then opened a formal criminal investigation for manslaughter in July.

The show had been a flagship for TF1 since its debut in 2001, with an average 29.9 audience share. The network canceled the latest season immediately after Babin's death, but later said a new format or all-star version would return to the schedule sometime in 2014.

Director's Cannes Comments Cause National Controversy
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about his film Young and Beautiful, director Francois Ozon said that it was a "fantasy of many women to do prostitution," which quickly became controversial after his comments were picked up by French media.

French feminists railed against the director leading Sen. Laurence Rossignol to speak out, saying: "Mr. Ozon, could you keep your fantasies to yourself?" Women's rights minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said his views on prostitution were "reductive and too generalized."

"It's terrifying to trivialize, to give the impression that there is a casualness in prostitution," she said. "This shows that it is also important that we hear the voices of women directors because women's views of women are not at all the same as those of men."

Ozon ended up apologizing on Twitter.

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