One of France’s most famous rock stars is soon to release a new album and last week he gave fans a taster on Twitter. It was a track from the album called ‘England’, in which he tears into the British for voting to leave the European Union. The country is also damned for its callous indifference towards migrants in Calais: ‘You can die in the Jungle’, he sings on Britain’s behalf. ‘We don’t give a damn about you’.
The singer is Bertrand Cantat, once a big shot on the Gallic grunge scene, who made global headlines in 2003 when he killed his girlfriend, the French actress Marie Trintignant. Cantat lost his temper in a Lithuanian hotel room when he discovered text messages from her former husband, so he beat the mother of four to death. He said he slapped her four times; prosecutors said there were 19 blows to Trintignant’s head and body. In court he cried, not for his victim, but for himself, wailing that ‘there are other people in this story…my wife, my children’.
Sentenced to eight years in a Lithuanian prison, Cantat was released after three and moved back in with the aforementioned wife, Kristina Rady, who had stood by him during his trial. Six months later, Rady hanged herself, having first described her life with her husband as a ‘hell’ in which he subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.
‘The problem with Bertrand Cantat is that he has this air of someone who wants to forget his responsibilities’, said François Cluzet, the husband of Trintignant, in 2011. ‘He has paid his debt to society…but it’s really galling to see that that guy is going to be applauded once more. Whether you like it or not, he’s still a killer’.
Those words have a particular resonance this week, not just because Cantat is plastered all over Les Inrockuptibles, an iconic left-wing cultural magazine, but because as the Harvey Weinstein scandal reveals, the world of the arts has a strange set of values.
Enough has been written already about Weinstein, and the hypocrisy of Hollywood A-listers like Ben Affleck; that’s the same Affleck who was embroiled in a bad-tempered debate during a 2014 chat-show when the host, Bill Maher, accused the liberal establishment of turning a blind eye to the inequality of women and homosexuals in the Muslim world. That elicited an angry response from Affleck who spent several minutes railing against Maher’s ‘gross’ and ‘racist’ opinions.
‘Gross’ might be a better description of Affleck’s sanctimony given his recent admission of sexual impropriety, and how should one describe Whoopi Goldberg’s defence of Roman Polanski when she said of the convicted child molester: ‘I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape?’
Cantat’s extensive interview in Les Inrockuptibles has not gone down well in France, the criticism fuelled by the growing number of French actresses who have come forward to allege they’ve been victims of Weinstein’s sexual predation. Marlène Schiappa, the minister for equality, made clear her anger with the magazine, tweeting:
“In the name of what should we support the promotion of someone who murdered Marie Trintignant with his fists.”
Another female politician, Laurence Rossignol, was similarly outraged by the publicity given to Cantat (in which he describes his emotional journey over the years), noting that in the same issue of the magazine there is a free CD including a song by the rapper, Orelsan, convicted in 2013 of inciting violence against women by releasing a song that included the lyric ‘shut your mouth or you’ll end up like Marie Trintigner’.
The silence from Inrockuptibles has been as deafening as that from Hollywood during Weinstein’s decades of depravity. Actors, directors, producers, publicity agents, everyone kept shtum, in marked contrast to the verbosity they display when there’s an opportunity to virtual signal. The world is a better place now that Weinstein has been brought down and if there’s more good to come from this sordid affair it will be an end to artists and actors hectoring us with their spurious morality. As for Cantat’s song, it seems like just another good reason to back Brexit.