Readings — From the March 2013 issue

Le Misérable

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From open letters by the actor Gérard Depardieu, addressed to French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and to the Russian press. In January, Depardieu obtained Russian citizenship in order to evade a proposed tax increase on incomes exceeding $1.3 million. Translated from the French by Ryann Liebenthal.

To Mr. Jean-Marc Ayrault:

Pathetic? You call it pathetic? Pathetic indeed! I was born in 1948 — I started working at age fourteen as a printer, as a warehouse worker, then as a dramatic artist. I have always paid my taxes. At no point did I abdicate my responsibility. The historical films I’ve been a part of bear witness to my love of France and its history. Sadly, I have no more left to do here — but I will continue to love the French public with whom I’ve shared so many emotions! I am leaving because you believe that success, creativity, talent — difference, in fact — must be punished. No one who has left France has been as insulted as I. Yet I will carry with me the spirit of a country that once was beautiful and that will, I hope, remain so. I give you my passport and my social-security card, of which I have never made use. We no longer have the same homeland — I am a true European, a citizen of the world.

I don’t cast stones at all those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, who drink too much or fall asleep on their scooters: I am one of them, as your dear media so loves to point out. I have never killed anyone, I don’t think I have proved myself unworthy, I’ve paid €145 million in taxes in forty-five years, employed eighty people in businesses created for and run by them. I am not asking to be pitied or venerated, but I refuse to be called pathetic. Who are you to judge me like this — I ask you, Mr. Ayrault, who are you?

To Russian journalists:

Yes, it’s true — I have submitted a request for a passport, and I’m delighted that it’s been accepted. I adore your country — its people, its history, its writers. I love making films here, and I love working with your actors. I adore your culture, your intelligence. Life is good in Russia. I prefer the countryside, and I know of some marvelous spots. Standing at the edge of a forest of birch makes me feel well. And I’m going to learn Russian. I’ve even spoken about it with my president, François Hollande. I’ve told him all of this. He knows that I am very fond of your president and that the feeling is mutual. And I told him that Russia is a great democracy, and that it’s not a country where a prime minister calls one of his citizens pathetic. I like the press, but journalists are often so single-minded, which I find rather irksome. Out of respect for your president, and for your great country, I will say no more. If I did want to add something about Russia, one little prose poem comes immediately to my mind:

That in a country so big one is never alone,
Because every tree and landscape fills us with hope.
There is no pettiness in Russia, but only noble feelings.
And behind those feelings a great deal of modesty.
In your immensity, I never feel alone.

Slava Rossii!!
Gérard Depardieu

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