Atlas Left...with His Cheese!
One of my favorite French actors is the larger-than-life Epicurean and all-around bon vivant Gerard Depardieu. His latest role is that of Atlas shrugging -- or, more exactly, taking it on the lam.
It all started with the new French Socialist government's decision to jack up taxes to an historic degree -- in a country already known for its outrageously high taxes. The Socialists raised the income tax on the wealthy to a stratospheric 75%. They also raised the rates on middle class incomes, on business, and on capital gains; instituted a "total wealth tax" on all property (including unrealized capital gains); and imposed an "exit" tax on escaping entrepreneurs.
This prompted the sybaritic star to announce that he was putting his Parisian palace up for sale and moving to a Belgian town just across the border to escape the confiscatory taxes. He first prudently stocked up on cheese, however.
This was hardly a unique event -- plenty of wealthy French have already fled the new Gaullic socialist paradise. But none of these were as famous -- nay, iconic -- as the delightful Depardieu.
Here is where it gets delicious.
Depardieu's decision to decamp moved Jean-Marc Ayrault, the slimy Socialist French Prime Minister, to call the peripatetic player "pathetic" for moving out. Another Socialist MP then called for Depardieu to be stripped of his citizenship.
Perhaps the most caustic cut came from the supercilious Socialist "Minister of Culture," Aurelie Filippetti, who said that the acclaimed actor was "deserting the field in the middle of a war against the [economic] crisis[.] ... French citizenship is an honor, and includes rights and duties, which include the ability to pay taxes."
It would appear that French leftists are like their American counterparts: they instantly anger if anyone questions their patriotism, but they are always the first to attack the patriotism of others.
This was more than the thorny thespian could bear, and he replied with a cri de coeur in a letter to the Journal du Dimanche, in which he said, "I'm leaving because you think success, creation, talent and anything different should be punished. I'm sending you back my passport and social security, which I have never used. We no longer have a homeland; I am a true European, a citizen of the world[.]"
The deeply distressed Depardieu pointed out to his detractors that over the last nearly half-century, he had always paid his taxes in full -- paying a total of 145 million euros (or about $188 million) during his lifetime -- and employs 80 people. "I am neither worthy of pity nor admirable, but I shall not be called 'pathetic[.]'"
The aggrieved actor added, "You said 'pathetic'? How pathetic...I refuse the word 'pathetic.' Who are you to judge me this way, I ask you, Mr. Ayrault?" Depardieu's Parthian shot was classic: "Despite my excesses, my appetite and love for life, I am a free being, sir, and will remain polite."
What is especially galling to the Gauls is that Depardieu is following the lead of another French actor, Christian Clavier, who moved to London earlier to escape the new high taxes. In an irony not lost on the cynical French, both Depardieu and Clavier both starred in three major hit French movies in which they played two Gaullic heroes, Obelix and Asterix.
What has resulted is something of a national "teachable moment." The leftists in the French media counted on being able to easily demonize Depardieu in the envious eyes of the French. His public behavior over the years has been...well, noteworthy, including such outré escapades as urinating into a plastic bottle on a French airliner, as well as on a policeman's leg; smacking around a few paparazzi along the way; and sometimes being hard on other actors.
He is also an actor of rare talent. Even with no formal training , and just a working-class background, he has made 170 movies, giving some legendary performances along the way. He is not some pampered aristocrat who inherited his wealth. And his lifestyle is fabulously French -- he owns vineyards and a couple of French restaurants, and he has written a French cookbook.
So while the French left thought it could vilify the pugnacious player, in fact the French public seems to be rallying to his side. One poll showed that 70% of the public support him.
Mirroring the split in public opinion over Depardieu's decision is a split among his fellow actors. One of them, Philippe Torreton, said Depardieu was "sulking like a playground creep" and made fun of his portly physiognomy.
This led to two legendary French actresses leaping to his defense. First was the normally reclusive Brigitte Bardot, who said Torreton should "keep his venom, his mediocrity and his jealousy to insult someone worthy of bother." She added that Depardieu had been "the victim of extremely unfair persecution."
Also defending Depardieu was Catherine Deneuve, who acidly attacked Torreton by saying that his "anger was borne of your hasty judgments made without thinking and this pettiness. You take aim at his physique! At his talent! This 'mess' that you speak of. What right, what democratic motive do you claim as your dirty condemnation?"
Ironically, more support for the persecuted performer has recently come from another branch of the French government itself. The French Constitutional Court, its functional equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, has just ruled that the Socialist tax law is unconstitutional, because it violates taxpayer equality. It turns out that the law leads to households earning the same amount of income paying different amounts of tax, depending upon how the income is distributed within the household.
Even more challenging for the Socialist government is the Court's decision that other of its recent tax increases were excessive, and -- most interestingly -- that the total wealth tax on unrealized capital games is unfair because it doesn't consider the victim's -- pardon, I mean the taxpayer's -- ability to pay.
The pathetic Socialist Prime Minister Ayrault immediately announced that the pathetic Socialist government will soon present a new pathetic law designed to get around the Court's ruling. We'll see if the government succeeds.
In the meantime, don't expect the estimable and formidable Mr. Depardieu to consider moving to Hollywood, which would be a wonderful gift to American cinema. Our country, mais oui, is run by the pathetic neo-socialist Obama, who has made it clear that nothing short of a 100% tax on the wealthy will content him.
And the state in which Hollywood is located is run by the pathetic Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and his now veto-proof Democrat state congress.
Philosopher Gary Jason is a senior editor of Liberty and author of the recent book, Dangerous Thoughts.