Arms flailing to the synthesized beat of a folk tune, film star Gérard Depardieu hit the dance floor in Chechnya and vowed to make a movie in the volatile region, the latest stop of an erratic tour of his new Russian homeland.
The actor, who quit France after criticizing a planned
75-per-cent tax on million-
aires, embraced Chechnya’s strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, during a weekend
visit, then showed off tradition-al “Lezginka” dance moves in television footage aired on Monday.
The trip came a month after Mr. Depardieu received a
hug and a passport from
President Vladimir Putin and heaped praise on the Russian leader – earning criticism from opposition and rights campaigners.
His visit to the Chechen capital, Grozny, should prove equally divisive: Human-rights groups have accused security services in Chechnya of carrying out kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings to try to quash an Islamist insurgency.
Pro-Kremlin Mr. Kadyrov, who denies the accusations of abuses, has imposed an uneasy peace over the region, the scene of two separatist wars that killed more than 100,000 people from 1994 to 2000.
“I would really like to shoot a film here and show that it’s possible to do that here in Grozny, shoot a great film,” Mr. Depardieu, 64, told private broadcaster NTV.
“I can’t reveal all the details now, but we’ll come back here and this is only the beginning,” added the star of Cyrano de Bergerac and Green Card.
Mr. Depardieu first came to Chechnya to celebrate Mr. Kadyrov’s birthday last year. When the actor was presented with his Russian passport, the Chechen leader invited Mr. Depardieu to live in the region.
“We got to know each other well during his first trip. We discussed several projects. I believe that the current trip will also be productive,” Mr. Kadyrov told Interfax news agency.
Mr. Depardieu, bitterly criticized by many in France for abandoning his homeland, has said he did not leave for tax reasons. He set up a home in Belgium last year before making the move further east to Russia, which has a flat tax of 13 per cent on income.
Mr. Depardieu registered as a resident of the provincial city of Saransk in western Russia on Saturday and announced he planned to set up a health-food restaurant where he would mostly serve pork, lamb and chicken.
In separate comments recorded there on Sunday and broadcast on Monday, Mr. Depardieu said he liked Moscow and Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, but that he was mostly drawn to more remote regions.
“I have always been strongly attracted by the Russian temperament, because I myself also feel very, very much Russian,” the actor told the state TV channel Rossiya 24.
“I adore Vladimir Putin, your President,” he added, praising the former KGB spy for overseeing the reconstruction of historic buildings in his hometown St. Petersburg.
The actor has appeared in an advertising campaign for ketchup in Russia and a film about the monk Grigory Rasputin.