Putin welcomes tax exile Depardieu with open arms

Putin has offered Gérard Depardieu an escape route from Hollande's 75 per cent tax by granting him Russian nationality.

Vladimir Putin  has today signed a decree that grants Russian citizenship to French film veteran Gérard Depardieu. 

This is the latest development in the brouhaha surrounding the actor's very public opposition to François Hollande's proposed 75 per cent tax on those earning over 1m euros. The proposal was rejected by the French Constitutional Court on Sunday on the grounds it is unfair as it will be applied only to individuals. The President insists that he will push through a revised version of the measure. 

Depardieu expressed his intention to give up his French nationality in an open letter to to French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault, who had previously described the actor as "pathetic" and "unpatriotic".

According to France's civil code, which rules that a person cannot be stateless, Putin's offer of a passport will allow Depardieu to give up his French nationality. His earnings will now be subject to Russian tax, which is fixed at 13 per cent. 

The actor has a warm relationship with the Russian leader, who had  already declared two weeks ago that “If Gérard wants a Russian passport, it is a done deal”. Meanwhile, last week Depardieu was heard in his Parisian restaurant boasting, “Putin has already sent me a passport.”

Depardieu also has close ties with Chechnya's  controversial President Ramzan Kadyrof, who has been accused by human rights groups of persecuting his critics, among other offences. The actor was filmed at Kadyrif's birthday party in October 2012 making a rousing speech in which he cried “Glory to Ramzan Kadryof”. He is well-known in Russia, appearing in television campaigns for a grocery chain, Sovietski bank and a brand of ketchup.

He has recently purchased a home in the Belgian border town of Néchin, where he now officially resides. Almost a third of the town's inhabitants are French, and it is well-known as a tax avoidancpied à terre for France's high-earners. Depardieu reportedly still spends much of his time in Paris.

Vladimir Putin has offered Gérard Depardieu an escape route from higher taxes (Getty Images)
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In Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to absorb the spirit of the whistleblower

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard. It is reassuring that a film in which people are spied can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable.

Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning 2014 documentary Citizenfour captured the precise moment at which Edward Snowden turned whistleblower after quitting his job at the NSA. Is there room for another film on the same subject? Oliver Stone’s fictionalised account, Snowden, would suggest not. In effect, it admits defeat from the get-go by using the making of Citizenfour as a framing device, incorporating flashbacks to show what led Snowden to commit the security breach that exposed the extent of US government surveillance. Cooped up in a Hong Kong hotel room with him as he spills the beans are Poitras (Melissa Leo) and the Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), who put on their best ­listening faces and try to forget that all of the most interesting scenes are happening in other parts of the film.

What Snowden has in its favour is an economical performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt which is mysterious without being aloof, cool but never cold. The actor gets the voice right (it’s a benign rumble) and though he is physically dissimilar to the real Snowden, that need be no barrier to success: look at Anthony Hopkins in Stone’s Nixon. Gordon-Levitt is absorbed by the role like water vanishing into a sponge. When the real Snowden pops up to stare wistfully off into the distance (there’s a lot of that here), it can’t help but be a let-down. People are so bad at playing themselves, don’t you find?

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard, and it is reassuring that a film in which people are spied on through the webcams of dormant laptops can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable. The script, written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald, pulls in the opposite direction, allowing every character to deliver a remark of nudging innuendo. When Snowden is discharged from the army after injuring himself, a doctor tells him: “There are plenty of other ways to serve your country.” When he is approved for a job at the CIA, Snowden tells his employer: “You won’t regret this.” What we have here, give or take the strip club scene in which a pole dancer is filmed from an ungallantly low angle, is a more sober Stone than the one who made JFK and Natural Born Killers but he still can’t resist giving us a few deafening blasts of the old irony klaxon.

Though we know by now not to expect subtlety, Stone’s storytelling techniques are still surprisingly crude. When Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), complains that he has become distant, that he doesn’t touch her any more, the viewer is likely to wonder why that point had to be expressed in soap-opera dialogue rather than, say, action or camera angles. After all, the film was more than happy to throw in a superfluous sex scene when their love life was hunky-dory.

But when Stone does make his points visually, the cringe factor is even higher. He used carnivorous imagery in Nixon – a bloody steak stood in for murder – and the new film doesn’t take the vegetarian option either. Snowden is already starting to be alarmed by surveillance tactics when he goes hunting with his boss, Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans). The pheasants they kill are barbecued in sizzling close-up, providing a buffet of symbolism. Snowden is going to be grilled. His goose is cooked. He’s dead meat.

An early scene showing him establishing contact with Poitras and Greenwald by an exchange of coded phrases (“What time does the restaurant open?” “Noon. But the food is a little spicy”) suggests that Stone intends to have fun with the story’s espionage trappings. The movie falls between two stools, however, lacking either the irreverence of satire or the tautness of a well-tooled thriller. At its most effective moments, it floats free of irony and captures a quaint, tactile innocence. We see Snowden communicating in sign language with an NSA colleague to avoid being eavesdropped on, or sitting in bed with a blanket over him as he taps away at his laptop. He is only hiding his passwords but he looks for all the world like a kid reading comics by torchlight after his mother has said: “Lights out.”

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump