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Culture

In conversation with French cinema icon Gerard Depardieu

Deutsche Welle caught up with French acting giant Gerard Depardieu in Berlin as he unveiled his new film in Germany. DW wanted to know how the 30-year veteran of the big screen enjoys playing older characters.

Gerard Depardieu at the opening of the 10th French cinema festival in Berlin

Depardieu thinks a sense of humor is the best defense against aging

Gerard Depardieu is probably the most well-known and prolific French actor of the past 30 years. Averaging over five big-screen appearances per year, Depardieu has played well over 150 roles.

His most famous films are arguably "The Last Metro" ("Le Dernier Metro") and "Cyrano de Bergerac," but he also gained great popularity through his portrayal of the cult children's character "Obelix" and in the television adaptation of "The Count of Monte Cristo."

Several of Depardieu's latest films like "Mammoth," "Potiche" and "My Afternoons with Marguerite" ("La tete en friche") have not been released yet in German cinemas, but fans in Germany can now watch Depardieu playing a man with Alzheimer's in the Franco-German coproduction, "Small World." Deutsche Welle caught up with the star at the film's launch in Berlin.

DW: How much do you empathize with the character Conrad in "Small World" who has maintained a certain child-like quality?

Gerard Depardieu: It's true that Conrad is much closer to me than to someone who still remembers everything! I like older people, between 97 and 100 or so, who just tell stories. But I'm only really interested when they're reminiscing about the childhood or their youth. Memories from just 10 or 20 years ago tend to just be recollections of experiences or situations that were embarrassing to a greater or lesser extent, along with subsequent reactions by the storyteller, of which they are either proud or ashamed.

In the film "My Afternoons with Marguerite" you play a man with learning difficulties who rediscovers himself thanks to chance encounter with an old woman. That's also a story about aging and memory.

I love to film in old people's homes and hospitals, and have done so for 30 years. You see people in their loneliness. All these old people are alone. They're like Conrad, no longer used to speaking or communicating. They're somewhat isolated, a bit like animals that have lost a little bit of life's meaning. They know that they are living with the danger of being cut out of life. I love characters who can temper these hardships with a kind of light-heartedness.

You personally knew the late German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Would you have liked to make a movie with him? Of course, Fassbinder liked to film every scene in one or two takes, and that style conflicts somewhat with yours.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder operates a camera

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a "great friend" to Depardieu

Rainer and I really should have made five films together; the last one could have been called "Quarrels"! But I simply never had the time, and so he took different actors. But Rainer, he was a great friend!

Did you know any other German directors from that era?

For me, Rainer Werner Fassbinder was the one from that period with the greatest talent - more so than people like Werner Schroeter or Daniel Schmid, although Daniel Schmid also had considerable talent. We really wanted to do "Berlin Alexanderplatz" together. Rainer was a great friend to me until he died. Barbet Schroeder and Werner Schroeter were part of our clique too - but those days are over. Fassbinder was a poet, a true artist. He was the lightning bolt in the eye of the storm. For the others, it was more labored.

Interviewer: Joerg Taszman (msh)
Editor: Kyle James

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