Brigitte Bardot Backs Gerard Depardieu in Tax Flight Battle

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The French film industry is split over Depardieu’s move to flee France to escape a 75 percent wealth tax.

PARIS -- French film legend Brigitte Bardot has come out in defense of fellow Gallic star Gerard Depardieu in his debate with French authorities over a new 75 percent wealth tax.

Depardieu last week announced that he would be leaving France -- relocating across the border in Belgium -- to avoid paying the new tax, which comes into effect next year.

French politicians and the media here attacked Depardieu for the move. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called it "pathetic." Actor Philippe Torreton (Guilty) weighed in with a scathing essay published Tuesday in France’s Liberation newspaper.  Titled "So Gerard, You’re Pissed Now?" the provocative piece compared the Oscar-nominated actor to a child throwing a tantrum on a playground, before accusing him of wanting to escape to Belgium to be alone with his "booze binges [and] chickens."

But this week Bardot came to Depardieu’s defense, issuing a statement in support of the man she called "an exceptional actor who represents France with a unique fame and popularity." She called Torreton’s essay "extremely unfair" and suggested the actor "keep his venom, his vulgarity, his mediocrity and his jealousy to insult those that deserve it."

It was a rare public statement by Bardot, who lives as a virtual recluse and who has attracted attention in recent years for her controversial political positions and animal welfare activism. She has even clashed in the past with Depardieu, a vocal supporter of bull fighting.

The big man himself has lashed out at the French government. In an open letter to Ayrault and French President Francois Hollande, Depardieu said he was "insulted" by the government’s attacks on him, calling them "pathetic," and he threatened to give up his French passport.

In interviews on TV and outlets around the country, others in the film community are being asked their opinion on the controversy. Josee Dayan, who directed Depardieu in The Count of Monte Cristo, supported him. "He is the greatest actor of the century. What Philippe Torreton wrote was wrong," she told RTL news. 

Comedian Jamel Debbouze, who co-starred with Depardieu in 2002’s Asterix and Obelix Meet Cleopatra was questioned on news channel TF1. 

"Do not upset Obelix!" he joked. "He is free to do what he wants. It is not cool to see him upset. I understand why he has taken offense to this insult," he said. However, he added that he would never leave France to escape taxes after struggling as an immigrant.

In an interview on Europe 1, director Claude Lelouch first categorized the attack as a "shameful lynching” before suggesting Depardieu revisit his position. "Gerard is fortunate to pay taxes, it means that he is successful and that his business is doing well," he said. "I dream of paying a lot of taxes my whole life."

Depardieu’s move comes just before a new 75 percent wealth tax for all income above $1.3 million (€1 million) is scheduled to go into effect in 2013. The new tax has received criticism from other celebrities, including Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, who categorized Hollande as an "idiot" for instituting the new tax. Other celebrities such as pop singer Johnny Hallyday and actor Alain Delon have also left France for tax reasons, but have avoided  media attention.