Once you try Azerbaijani food, you know that Azerbaijan is a smart country.
Take it from French cinema legend and gastronome Gérard Depardieu, who’s got a growing hankering for ex-Soviet countries that like their policies on the tough side. A recent commercial, brought to you by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture and Tourism, features the movie star digging into Azerbaijani food as a local scriptwriter tries to sell him on a movie idea.
“I am overwhelmed,” exclaims the rotund Depardieu as the dishes keep coming, and the scriptwriter chatters on. Not by the script. But by the cooking. “The country who [sic] has that kind of food is obviously a smart country,” he concludes, gesturing with his fork.
Perhaps food quality can indeed testify to IQ (and Azerbaijani cuisine does have its tasty items), but how the Depardieu video will testify to Azerbaijan’s international image remains to be seen.
Increasingly, the 64-year-old actor appears to be available for the asking. Russian President Vladimir Putin and notorious Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov have paraded him on TV and drowned him in gifts. He also has appeared in a music video with Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s authoritarian President Islam Karimov.
Depardieu's post-Soviet conga eventually took him across the Caucasus mountain range to Azerbaijan, where, aside from the tourism promo, he also starred in a film aside. Granted, though, being a guest-for-hire requires a certain diplomatic dexterity. Sharon Stone, for instance, has registered effortless delight at events for both Putin and his Georgian nemesis, Mikheil Saakashvili.
But if Depardieu does not mind such typecasting, and keeps an ear out for his hosts' sensitivities, acting opportunities abound in the ex-Soviet world. He has yet, for instance, to discover and promote Belarus and Turkmenistan .