The Depardieu Affair

Actor Plays Role of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New Flick

Tragic Anti-Hero: Gerard Depardieu said he’s playing role of Dominique Strauss-Kahn because he dislikes the banker so much.
Getty Images
Tragic Anti-Hero: Gerard Depardieu said he’s playing role of Dominique Strauss-Kahn because he dislikes the banker so much.

By Robert Zaretsky

Published December 31, 2012, issue of January 04, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

One hundred and fifteen years ago, Cyrano de Bergerac leapt into history. Following the opening performance of Edmond Rostand’s play on December 28, 1897, a dazzled audience obliged the cast to make forty curtain calls. The following night, government officials came to the theater and awarded Rostand with the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. A rapid decision, but hardly hasty: Rostand’s swashbuckling hero, embodying that most elusive of qualities, le panache, has ever since belonged to France’s pantheon of immortal literary creations.

The play’s anniversary arrives in France at an apt moment: the era’s most famous Cyrano, Gérard Depardieu, has just loudly quit his native France for Belgium. Did the manner of his leaving thrum with panache or a rather less heroic quality? This is just one of many issues the French are now frantically debating: To a degree perhaps unimaginable in our country, the controversy fuses politics and poetry, history and myth, ideology and ideals.

Depardieu’s dramatic exit stage left occurs at a time that resembles the moment Cyrano first stepped onto the French stage. Fin-de-siècle France was rocked by a series of economic and political crises. With the nation mired in an economic recession, demagogic politicians channeled the desperation of French workers against Italian and Jewish immigrants, while the Socialists and conservatives battled over the nation’s future.

At the same time, Germany and Great Britain were busy maintaining their reputation as France’s traditional enemies: the humiliating loss to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 was still fresh, while Great Britain was winning the race for imperial conquest. The basso continuo to these seemingly endless crises was the Dreyfus Affair, which pitted France against itself over the very definition and vocation of the Republic.

Yet, this deeply divided nation immediately united in common adoration over Cyrano. Here was a hero for all of France: a man who recited rhymed couplets while dueling a foe — and running him through just as he reached the poem’s climax; a man who gives his life for his nation and his great love, Roxana; a man who not just sacrificed his life to great ideals, but did so with that “thing unstained, unsullied by the brute/Broken nails of the world.” In a word, with panache.

And un pif, or schnozz, nearly as long as his sword. In a majestic and hilarious speech, Cyrano memorably challenges an aristocrat who had clumsily mocked his nose, by riffing a series of variations on his “Gothic perch” for birds. But what is perhaps most majestic, though more elusive, is that Rostand was an ardent Dreyfusard: a supporter of the French Jewish captain who had been falsely accused of treason. Though Rostand himself never made the association, notes the historian Ruth Harris, it is intriguing that the attribute he gives his hero — one Cyrano overcomes through integrity and intelligence — is the one so central to anti-Semitic stereotypes.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.