France Extends a Welcome to Woody Allen, Louis C.K. and Johnny Depp

Woody Allen has described his new movie, “Coup de Chance,” as a “poisonous romantic thriller.” It made its debut at the Venice International Film Festival on Monday, and will be released on Sept. 27. But American moviegoers won’t be able to see it in theaters unless they happen to be visiting, say, Paris or Marseille.

Like his last two films, “Coup de Chance” — a French production, in French, with a French cast — will not be distributed in theaters in the United States. Mr. Allen’s last deal with an American company came to an end in 2018, when Amazon cut ties with the filmmaker amid a renewed focus on accusations that he had molested his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow.

Mr. Allen has repeatedly denied those accusations and continued to work. He shot “Coup de Chance” in and around Paris, where he has found a major production company willing to work with him.

France has long provided a haven for American artists fleeing racism or political persecution, including Josephine Baker, who was embraced by Parisian audiences in the 1920s, and the film director Jules Dassin, who found work in French cinema after being blacklisted by Hollywood during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

But lately France has given a warm reception to people who fall into an altogether different category: men who have been accused of sexual abuse, sexual misconduct or domestic abuse.

Louis C.K. was doing stand-up in Paris to roars of laughter in 2018, months after several women said he had masturbated in front of them. (“These stories are true,” he said in response to the women’s accusations.) He went on to appear in a French TV series, “La meilleure version de moi-même” (“The Best Version of Myself”), which was directed by Blanche Gardin, a French comedian and filmmaker who became his girlfriend. Louis C.K. and Ms. Gardin, who are no longer together, also made a podcast about their relationship.

In the United States, Louis C.K. has not appeared on network talk shows or made films or television shows for major entertainment companies since the accusations were made against him, but he has continued to receive support from his die-hard fans. In January, he gave a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Johnny Depp has been more or less unemployable at major Hollywood studios since his ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of physical and sexual abuse in a 2018 opinion article in The Washington Post. Disney canceled a $22.5 million deal for Mr. Depp to appear in a new installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, according to his manager, but a French company, Why Not Productions, hired him to star in a costume drama, “Jeanne du Barry.”

Johnny Depp received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival in May after the debut of his latest movie, “Jeanne Du Barry,” a French production.Credit…Scott Garfitt/Invision, via Associated Press

In the film, Mr. Depp played Louis XV, the 18th-century French leader known as Louis the Beloved, his first major role in three years. When the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the actor received a seven-minute standing ovation. “Jeanne du Barry” went on to have strong box-office numbers in France. Variety noted that the successful theatrical run showed that Mr. Depp was still a bankable star, adding, “At least in France.”

Mr. Allen is the latest male artist to go there for career rehabilitation — or simply to keep making films. In the United States, several A-list stars, including Greta Gerwig and Timothée Chalamet, have expressed regret over having worked with him. In France, the 87-year-old director was able to hire a first-rate French cast.

How French audiences will respond to “Coup de Chance” is an open question. Early reviews for the film range from ambivalent to ecstatic. Le Monde on Tuesday called the direction “laborieuse” (that is, laborious).

Graham Robb, a British historian who has written several books on France, said the diverging treatment of these male artists largely boiled down to cultural differences between France and the United States.

In France, Mr. Robb said, “Artists have the right to be criminal, cranky, to be imaginative and not like other people.”

He cited Arthur Rimbaud, the hedonistic, opium-smoking 19th-century French poet whose writings were part of the high-school curriculum in France. “School children are forced to read the deranged, drug-fueled fantasies of Rimbaud,” Mr. Robb said. “Breaking the rules is seen as a sine qua non of artistic life.”

The scandals involving Mr. Allen, Mr. Depp and Louis C.K. grew out of the #MeToo reckoning. That movement has had some effect on French cultural life as well. Lawmakers passed legislation making street harassment illegal and set the age for sexual consent at 15. Some French entertainers, including the actor Gérard Depardieu, have come under fire amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

But Hélène Frappat, a French film critic and novelist, said that the movement had not gained as much traction in her home country as it had in the United States. “In France, I don’t think the #MeToo movement has yet been the revolution I’d hoped for,” she wrote in an email interview.

She added that, while there has been a “revolution” in France among the younger generation and “many women,” the creative community has been largely immune from the change. “The artistic community, like that of the French elite, is prey to the moral panic of old white men terrified of losing a crumb of power,” Ms. Frappat wrote.

Months after he acknowledged his own sexual misconduct, Louis C.K. found appreciative audiences in France.Credit…Angela Lewis for The New York Times

Mr. Allen and Mr. Depp also have longstanding ties to France. From 1998 to 2012, Mr. Depp was in a relationship with the French singer and model Vanessa Paradis; the couple have two children, and Mr. Depp owns a French village.

Mr. Allen has a certain place within the French public, Ms. Frappat said. Moviegoers in France “remain emotionally attached to the memory of his films, which French audiences have looked forward to seeing every year,” she said, adding that she included herself in that category.

And while Ms. Frappat said she had “never questioned” Dylan Farrow’s allegations of sexual abuse against Mr. Allen, she noted, “I continue to love his work, in a kind of conscious and difficult split.”

That ambivalence was on display in Venice: Mr. Allen received a standing ovation for “Coup de Chance,” while, outside the theater, protesters held signs asking festival programmers to “turn the spotlight off of rapists.”

As for Louis C.K., Ms. Gardin viewed him as someone who was skilled at turning one’s baser instincts into art, like Rimbaud. In his standup, Ms. Gardin has said, Louis C.K. “explored his dark side, his perversions, and deciphered the darkness of the human soul.”

There is perhaps another factor that continues to make these men appealing to French audiences: They come from a land that many are exposed to mainly through pop culture imagery, and therefore can seem a bit unreal.

“For a lot of Europeans, the U.S. is a semi-fictional place,” Mr. Robb said. “That plays into the comparatively welcoming treatment of people like Johnny Depp. The actions of an actor are, to some extent, things that are going on in a half-fictional world.”

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