ABU DHABI // He plays a Marxist agitator in his latest film, but in real life Gérard Depardieu has little sympathy for France's strikers.
The French actor was in the capital for the gala screening of the comedy Potiche, which also stars Catherine Deneuve and was directed by François Ozon.
The movie had its premiere yesterday at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
In the film, the Oscar winner plays a "communist bulldog" who supports industrial action in a 1970s umbrella factory.
But Depardieu condemned as "insane" the wave of protests against plans to raise the retirement age in France.
For the past six days, as many as three million people have taken to France's streets. Strikes at oil refineries have caused fuel shortages at airports and petrol stations.
The strikers object to plans for increasing the national retirement age from 60 to 62, and for the full state pension to start at 67 rather than 65.
"I think it's ridiculous to ask that you retire at 60 years old, when for the Spanish it's 67," said the actor, who is 61. "Nowadays when people are in their 70s they are still young."
Asked if he supports the protests in his homeland, he said "no," and described the culture created by the country's welfare system as "a sad comedy".
"In France, you have Social Security. When you don't work they pay you. If you go to see the doctor and open your mouth - 15 days off, paid. This is not normal," he said.
"You have young boys at 15 years old given money, and they stay at home until 35 or 40 years old. I left home at 12 years old. This is insane."
Depardieu is best known for appearances in the international hits Green Card and Cyrano de Bergerac, and for playing the superhumanly strong character Obélix in movies based on France's beloved Astérix comics.
In Potiche ("Trophy Wife"), he plays Maurice Babin, an ageing political radical who "betrays his class" by falling in love with the wife of a wealthy industrialist (Deneuve, who turns 67 on Friday). But the actor said he was not attracted to the project for political reasons.
"That movie is not political. It's funny. My character I like because he is in love," the actor said.
After starring in more than 150 films, Depardieu has said in recent years that he intends to quit acting and concentrate on making wine and food. In addition to co-owning a winery in the northern Rhône and a restaurant in Paris, he has published a cookbook.
"I didn't quit the cinema," he insisted. "The cinema quit the movies. There [has been] a huge change."
He said he is unhappy with the fast editing pace adopted by many contemporary filmmakers. Now, he said, films often have about 3,000 shots. "I grew up with movies, or at least comedies, with around 1,500 or less. Maybe I'm too old, I have a lot of other things to do, like wine restaurants, food and fishing. I'm very happy."
Nevertheless, he said, he was keen to appear in Potiche because of the chance to work with Ozon. Considered one of France's foremost young filmmakers, he won international acclaim with 8 Femmes and Swimming Pool.
"[Potiche] came from a play which was a huge success in the 1970s. Françious Ozon is a strange man, very talented. He has a light spirit and is very communicative."
Potiche will receive a second screening at Marina Mall at 9.45pm on Wednesday.