France's favourite film star announces his retirement - but does he mean it?

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The Independent Online

The 56-year-old star of films such as Jean de Florette and Cyrano de Bergerac has said he did not want to "hang on like an idiot" until the bitter end. Instead, he announced, his current project, a film focusing on the Algerian war for independence entitled Michou d'Auber, would be his last.

"I have nothing to lose. I have made 170 films," Depardieu told a shocked collection of the film's cast and crew during a break between scenes. "I have nothing left to prove."

But the report, in the newspaper Le Parisien Dimanche, has left those who work closely with Depardieu unconvinced. The actor, who made his first film in 1967 and has worked at a frenetic pace ever since, has been announcing his imminent retirement "for at least a decade", said Claude Davy, his agent.

The latest announcement should not be taken literally, explained Mr Davy. Depardieu would still be making occasional appearances on screen but would only be making about one film every three years, he said.

This might seem a reasonable workload for many actors, but it is a far less strenuous regime than Depardieu, who has appeared in five films in the past five months, has been used to.

"He is fed up with cinema," Mr Davy said. "It doesn't amuse him any more. He wants to do deals, he wants to do other things than act."

The Oscar-nominated star with a notorious taste for fine wine insisted, however, that he is retiring for good. "I'm in the process of stopping filming," he was quoted as saying. "I'm a guy who's leaving. A guy who's not drunk. For once."

Depardieu, who has admitted to having undergone a liver transplant, was perhaps keen to ward off the kind of criticisms levelled at him earlier this year when he appeared, apparently inebriated, on the BBC's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and proceeded to inform viewers that, in order to cook a hedgehog, "you inflate it through its arse".

The actor, whose string of romantic leads during the 1970s and 1980s earned him a reputation as a heart-throb, did not explain how he was planning on extricating himself from the shooting of a third Asterix film, due to begin next year, in which he is supposed to be playing Obelix, the corpulent side-kick of the diminutive Gallic warrior.

It is thought that failing health is one of the chief reasons for a possible winding down of Depardieu's career. He underwent a quintuple heart bypass operation in July 2000, and his doctors have long been advising him to take life more easily.

In recent years he has developed an array of gastronomic interests which could stand him in good stead for an exquisitely well-fed premature retirement.

With two bustling restaurants in central Paris and a cookbook recently published in English, the film star would have much to entertain himself with. He owns vineyards in the south of France, Spain, Morocco and Argentina and has joined the ranks of wine-making celebrities such as Sting and Sir Cliff Richard, producing no fewer than seven different varieties in partnership with Bernard Magrez.

Highlights of a prolific career

CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1990)

Depardieu's most prominent facial feature came in handy in Jean-Paul Rappeneau's film - for which he received an Oscar nomination - about the swordsman with an oversized nose.

JEAN DE FLORETTE (1986)

Widely viewed as the most impressive performance of his career, the cinematic re-telling of Marcel Pagnol's novel cast Depardieu as Jean, the hunchback who battles to provide a livelihood for his family.

GREEN CARD (1990)

Although he was already a huge celebrity in France, Depardieu was relatively unknown in the English-speaking world until he starred opposite Andie McDowell in this American romantic comedy.

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