DEPARDIEU: A Biography by Paul Chutkow (Knopf: $24; 351 pp.) It is not true--not quite--that French producers are required by law to star Gerard Depardieu in at least 50% of their movies. What is true is that when the actor was fustigated in the American press over some nasty business with women, the National Assembly issued a formal declaration of solidarity, while the government sent Washington an official note of protest (something akin to a U.S. Senate vote of confidence in Errol Flynn). Just who is this actor sui generis, this “living, breathing part of the patrimony,” this icon of whom normally unflappable Times film critic Sheila Benson wrote, “Depardieu has an almost indecent magnetism”? In a deeply researched if somewhat obeisant biography, American Paul Chutkow tries to harness, a least for a moment, a “force of nature” of such monumental eccentricity as to constitute a living labyrinth.
A less likely star never graced the silver screen. “Bearish and barrel-shaped, with unkempt hair and a nose that cannot be made to look straight from any angle,” Depardieu has overcome not only an Everyman physique but also a brutish childhood and a debilitating speech defect. Diagnosis: a mental block stemming from a family that spoke, if at all, in grunts. Prescription: listen to Mozart two hours a day. Result: Sensation. Acting, Depardieu tells Chutkow in this rich biography, fulfilled “a terrible need to communicate.” Acting, says director Paul Regy, is “a way for him to avoid madness or prison.”