Stop the Music

French Singer Fired From Play After Controversy Over Violent Past

The announcement that French rock star Bertrand Cantat would be performing in the Théatre du Nouveau Monde’s production of the play Sophocles did not sit well with many Quebecois residents and, as a result, the singer has lost the gig.

Cantat was convicted of manslaughter in 2003 after beating his partner, French film star Marie Trintignant, to death. Cantat served only half of his eight-year sentence.

“We were reacting on this special case—I’m not sure it should set a standard,” said Guy Therrien, communicatons officer for the Action Democratique du Québec party, on why his group opposed Cantat entering Canada. “He obviously had psychological problems; he was a very violent man. He waited for 7 hours before calling the police,” he said, in reference to the killing. “These were critical hours, and she lost her life.”

The choice to use Cantat originally came from director Wajdi Mouawad, a friend of Cantat’s who had worked with him on previous projects. According to a press release from Lorraine Pintal, the Theatre Director of TNM, Mouawad’s decision was an artistic one, based on wanting to combine the words of Sophocles with Cantat’s style of rock and roll.

“Following this artistic choice, I could never have imagined that the presence of Bertrand Cantat, as a musician on stage, would raise a debate in the media, social and political, this massive,” said Pintal in her press release. “While receiving many expressions of support for this project, we were also faced with strong statements of disapproval, even violence, [against] Wajdi Mouawad, Bertrand Cantat and TNM.”

The debate over Cantat moved all the way to the upper echelons of Canadian government. After a majority vote could not be reached, the Harper Government was expected to make the final decision.

“It took a debate in the National Assembly to decide on this issue. It’s very telling about the political climate in Quebec,” said Therrien. “There are issues that nobody wants to talk about or that they brush under the carpet, but in this case it was a fight for women.”

The decision to exclude Cantat from TNM’s production came on April 11, after several days of deliberation. In the end, Pintal’s decision satisfied the upper workings of the government.

“As an artistic and general director of a theatre, I must be attentive to the great upheavals of the society in which I live and evolve,” said Pintal in the press release. “So I was very sensitive to the controversy raised by the presence of Bertrand Cantat on our stage […]. I regret that the art project by Wajdi Mouawad has generated such controversy that goes beyond the mission and mandate of the institution, which is primarily to present powerful drama and meaning.”

It was not an easy decision to make, but the ADQ stated that they were happy with the theatre’s final decision.

“There’s a limit as to saying, ‘Yes, he paid his price.’ We do believe in reinsertion, that someone who goes to prison can come out and rehabilitate, so they can pursue a normal life,” said Therrien. “In this case we consider it a special case. He was participating in the [theatre] piece—in my understanding, about women’s conditions—and the message was mixed. In Quebec, we don’t have a high tolerance for anything that relates to violence against women.”

At this point, TNM is looking to director Mouawad on whether to continue the production of Sophocles without Cantat, or move on to a different piece entirely.