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France's Depardieu a one-man festival

CANNES, France -- Most movie stars at Cannes make a fetish of invisibility. They're whisked about in official limos with curtained windows and move behind a human wall of publicists.

But not the beloved Gerard Depardieu. France's biggest movie star is also the friendliest, plunging into the festival like a teenager thrilled to have a free ticket. The other night during an exclusive dinner at Moulin des Mougins, the most famous restaurant on the Riviera, I watched him operate.

He was attending an event sponsored by Bravo and the Independent Film Channel, which had flown about 60 American cable executives to Cannes for a look at the festival. He was thrilled to be there, he said, in order to announce his new film on Balzac, which was being financed by members of the group.

These cable people had not quite decided in their own minds to finance the film, but they had decided in Depardieu's mind, and he seized the microphone from Kathy Dore, president of Bravo/IFC, and thanked them profusely for their wisdom. "The world, it loves American films!" he cried, somehow implying that the world would love them even more if they were all for Balzac.

Then he plunged into the crowd like an alderman. "What a beautiful necklace!" he told my wife, Chaz, plucking it from her decolletage like a boy who has found the plum in his pudding. He caressed her hair. "Marvelous!" (I am translating from the French.) He whispered softly and rapidly in her ear, and Chaz, who had just completed four weeks at Berlitz, looked like a woman who felt that her lessons had been an excellent investment.

"You are lucky, lucky man," he told me sorrowfully, before continuing his tour. "What a great beauty!" he told the wife of a cable operator from Atlanta. "Are you a model?" he asked a jolly lady from Omaha. Little sighs and cries of joy wafted back to us as he receded into the crowd, and a woman emerged from the crush to tell us, "His eyes ran up and down my body, and I could see him trying to decide what to say without repeating himself."

Photographers appeared, to take Depardieu's picture with the visitors. He gazed upon every wife with moonstruck eyes. Chef Roger Verge, whose cuisine is world famous, circulated among us, his little white mustache bristling with joy as he cooed that the dinner, she was ready. A shriek went up in the vicinity of the photographer, and soon a scout from that part of the room arrived in ours: "Now Depardieu is tongue-kissing them!"

"For the camera?"

"Not entirely."

That was on Sunday night. Today I read in the International Herald-Tribune that Depardieu had a motorcycle accident Monday, near Paris. He was slightly injured and had to be taken to the hospital. If the medic was a woman, I picture him rising from his stretcher to caress her stethoscope.

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