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The title doesn’t lie: In every sense, French film star Gerard Depardieu is Larger Than Life. But for those who only know the man by following his drunken exploits in international gossip columns, let there be no mistake: Depardieu is one of the greatest actors of his generation — the Gallic equivalent of De Niro or Nicholson, with a bit of Brando thrown into the mix. His explosive performances have marked the movies of Francois Truffaut, Bernardo Bertolucci and Maurice Pialat, to name a few of the many auteurs he’s worked with, and his hearty appetite for destruction in real life is only surpassed by an all-consuming presence on screen.
Rendering some justice to a performer who’s fallen out of favor in recent years due to much erratic behavior and what can best be described as poor emigration decisions — in 2012 Depardieu threatened to give up his French passport for tax purposes, and has since aligned himself with Russian president Vladimir Putin — this 60-minute documentary by photographer Richard Melloul and director Renaud Fessaguet is more of a hagiography than a full-blown biography, never completely delving into the actor’s extremely prolific career. But with a lengthy one-on-one interview and an assortment of rare clips, the Cannes Classics premiere should find plenty of TV slots in Francophonia and other territories where Depardieu still rules.
Told more or less in chronological fashion through the actor’s own words, we trace his origins from a working-class upbringing in the provincial city of Chateauroux — where his goal was to become the town butcher — to his debuts on stage and screen, including a sequence from the unfinished 1965 Agnes Varda film, Christmas Carol. Cagey, unpredictable and filled with mountains of energy, Depardieu describes himself as a natural who was calm under the lights but volatile everywhere else, while director Jacques Weber stresses the star’s “take it or leave it” approach to his metier.
Behind-the-scenes footage from Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Bertrand Blier’s 1974 hit Les Valseuses — a French Easy Rider that really put Depardieu on the map — shows how he could play anything from a tragic poet to a degenerate street thug, switching from comedy to calamity while dominating everyone and everything around him. With over 180 screen credits to cover, it makes sense that the filmmakers only concentrate on a handful of works, though one never gets a full sense of Depardieu’s output, with no mention made of 1900, The Last Metro, Danton, as well as his various collaborations with Alain Resnais and Maurice Pialat (whose Under the Sign of Satan is alluded to in one brief clip).
Otherwise we get to see “Gégé” (as he’s nicknamed in France) wandering around his vineyard or showing off a classic car in his garage, in the kinds of scenes meant to reveal his private side but ultimately rather silly to watch. Melloul and Fessaguet really do seem too enamored with, or intimidated by, their subject to offer something truly informative, although watching the man’s nonstop antics — including some rather hideous attempts at finger painting — further underlines the idea that his acting style results from an outsized psyche. In that respect, the documentary manages to capture something of his essence even if Depardieu’s essence is, in the end, all too much to handle.
Production companies: Kaliste Productions, Richard Melloul Productions
Directors: Richard Melloul, Renaud Fessaguet
Producers: Tony Comiti, Richard Melloul
Editor: Frederic Decossas
Composers: Julian Dagorno, Frederic Jaffre
International sales: Java Films
No rating, 69 minutes
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