posted on September 07, 2007 19:00
French news agencies are this week reporting that France's most famous rock star and prison inmate may soon be free on conditional release.
Bertrand Cantat, lead singer with French group Noir Désir, was jailed in 2004 for eight years after a court in Lithuania found him guilty of killing his girlfriend, actress Marie Trintignant, after hitting her during a fight in their hotel room in Vilnius in July 2003. Cantat is currently serving his sentence in a prison near Toulouse, in south-west France.
Trintignant's death, and the subsequent trial of her lover Cantat, shocked France. The award-nominated actress, daughter of actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (star of French classics like 'Un Homme Et Une Femme' and 'Trois Couleurs Rouge') was filming on location in Vilnius at the time of the incident. The Lithuanian court heard how, during a fight after a party, a drunken Cantat struck Trintignant repeatedly, causing massive cerebral trauma.
A comatose Trintignant was rushed to a specialist hospital in France but died four days later. The then-President Chirac paid tribute to the late actress; Lithuanian police charged Cantat with her murder.
The case divided France. The charismatic Cantat was a hugely-admired figure, adored by French rock fans for his politically-engaged songs and fierce rebellious outbursts. In 1997 Noir Désir played a highly-charged concert in Toulon, a city then ruled by the extreme-right Front National of Jean-Marie Le Pen, and Cantat caused uproar at a 2002 awards ceremony by criticising the head of his record company. The idea of their idealistic rock idol being an abusive partner and killer was incomprehensible to his loyal fans. Cantat, echoing the tragic romances of Othello and of Romeo and Juliet, pleaded in court that he loved Trintignant and lost control during a passionate argument. During the period of the case, Noir Désir's record sales rocketed - but many fans have never forgiven Cantat for betraying their idealism.
The death of Trintignant provoked widespread public grief - and anger. Her violent end highlighted the issue of domestic violence, and huge numbers of people attended public demonstrations and protested at a perceived lack of resources and convictions in France. The Cantat trial became akin to a test case for domestic abuse; victim support groups held massive public demonstrations around France and called for greater protection of those suffering conjugal abuse.
Cantat was eventually found guilty of killing Trintignant and was sentenced to eight years in prison. A Noir Désir retrospective released in 2005 was promoted by his bandmates, who delicately referred to the 'absence' of their singer.
Trintignant was buried in Père Lachaise in Paris, final resting place of other tragic figures like Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. A small Seine-side square named after her lies just around the corner from Morrison's former Paris apartment in the Marais.
Noir Désir, Cantat's band, are at best an acquired taste for non-French people. Their mix of punk aggression and self-righteous protest-song posturing makes for lumpen joyless sonic sludge that values politicised lyrics over musical content. Sure enough, Cantat's fans refer to him as the French Jim Morrison or the French Jeff Buckley; this should be enough to warn away discerning music lovers.
In short, most of Noir Désir's music is awful - but there are two flashes of quality in their back catalogue. One is the vicious guitar riff of 1992 single 'Tostaky', wasted on a clumsy and tuneless song. The other is an untypically catchy acoustic pop song that was a massive hit across the continent in 2001; it's called 'Le Vent Nous Portera' ('The Wind Will Carry Us'):