Depardieu vs Binoche: feud that's got France flummoxed

Why are two of the country's top actors exchanging insults?

The French actress Juliette Binoche, known for her sweetness on and off screen, has gently savaged the actor Gérard Depardieu for publicly questioning her talent. In an interview with an Austrian magazine, Mr Depardieu last week attacked the Oscar-winning Ms Binoche as "an absolute nothing".

In a series of interviews in Britain before her award-winning new movie is released today, the graceful Ms Binoche remained within character while implying that Mr Depardieu was suffering from psychological problems.

"I don't know him and I don't know what I did to him," she told the BBC Radio 4 culture programme Front Row. "I understand that you don't have to like everyone and you [can] dislike someone's work. But I don't understand the violence [of his words]. I think it has to do with himself. There's something going on," she said.

In another interview, with Empire magazine, she said that she did not feel "wounded" by Mr Depardieu's comments because "they have nothing to do with me". Might the most successful French actor of his generation be suffering from professional "jealousy" she wondered? (He has never won an Oscar. She won the Academy Award for best supporting actress in The English Patient in 1997.)

Alternatively, she suggested that the notoriously macho and choleric Mr Depardieu might have been "wounded in his maleness" by her new film, Certified Copy, which tells the story of a doomed affair largely from a female point of view. "I know some men have had problems with the film," she said.

In an interview with the Austrian magazine Profil last week Mr Depardieu, 61, launched into an attack on Ms Binoche, 46, without even being asked a direct question about her. "Please can you explain to me what the mystery of Juliette Binoche is meant to be?" he said. "I would really like to know why she has been so esteemed for so many years. She has nothing – absolutely nothing. Compared with her, Isabelle Adjani is great even if she's lost it recently. Or Fanny Ardant – she is magnificent, extremely impressive. But Binoche? What has she ever had going for her?"

In her interview with Mark Lawson on Front Row, Ms Binoche – a committed Christian and unostentatious supporter of charitable and political causes – said that she had only once met Mr Depardieu for any length of time. They had dinner together a few years ago and he accused her of "always making beautiful films". "I didn't have any answers to that because I didn't completely understand what he meant by that," she said. "And then, after that, I thought... 'are you supposed to do not-beautiful films?' I provoked him without knowing I provoked him, I think."

Ms Binoche won the award for best actress at the Cannes film festival this year for her role in Certified Copy as a woman identified only as "she" – a French gallery owner in Italy who has an enigmatic affair with a British art historian (played by the opera singer William Shimell). The movie, directed by Abbas Kiarostami, opens in cinemas in Britain this weekend.

"This is a film that asks questions and doesn't provide answers," Ms Binoche said earlier this year.

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