MOSCOW (Reuters) - Arms flailing to the synthesized beat of a folk tune, film star Gerard Depardieu hit the dance floor in Chechnya and vowed to make a movie in the volatile region on the latest stop of an erratic tour of his new Russian homeland.
The actor, who quit France after criticizing a planned 75-percent tax on millionaires, embraced Chechnya’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov during a weekend visit, then showed off traditional ‘Lezginka’ dance moves in television footage aired on Monday.
The trip came a month after 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 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 in 1994-2000.
“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,” 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”.
Depardieu first came to Chechnya to celebrate Kadyrov’s birthday last year. When the actor was presented with his Russian passport, the Chechen leader invited 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,” Kadyrov told Interfax news agency.
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 percent on income.
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, 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.
Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Andrew Heavens