French Face of the Week

No return to grace for French cinema’s bad boy

No return to grace for French cinema's bad boy
Photo: François Guillot/AFP
He is one of France's best-loved filmstars, but for more than a decade has been plagued by drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and a proclivity for serious violence. Meet Samy Naceri, the French actor who makes Charlie Sheen look like a choirboy.

Who is Samy Naceri?

He is an award-winning 51-year-old actor, best known for his role in the massively popular ‘Taxi’ movies, and for being the hell-raising wild man of French cinema.

Why is he in the news this week?

At around 5am on Sunday morning he was involved in a fight on the streets of Paris, where he was attacked by a group of men while appearing to be highly intoxicated.

Tell me more.

Well, almost inevitably in this day and age, the whole thing was recorded and posted on YouTube.

The blurry amateur footage shows a seriously drunk-looking Naceri staggering about on a street near the Champs Elysées.

Naceri gets into an altercation with a group of men, who annoyed him “because they were selling cocaine like the Pakistanis sell flowers to everyone,” he told RTL.

After that, the punches and kicks start flying, Naceri is knocked to the ground several times, crashes into passing traffic, and by the end, his shirt bloodied, appears to be in a very bad state indeed.

Earlier this week it was thought Naceri would be charged with acts of violence, but he now only faces charges of damaging property, namely breaking a car window.

The whole affair has featured heavily in this week’s news media, and Naceri has appeared a somewhat sorry sight on French TV, defending himself indignantly through his broken teeth.

He has denied being drunk at the time, although hasn’t yet explained why he appears to be so, in the video.

Naceri, showing his scars to BFMTV earlier this week.

Presumably the French public are a bit shocked by this incident?

Actually, not particularly. Sort of like a French Charlie Sheen, Naceri is notorious by now, and has been in and out of prison for more than 10 years.

In fact, despite being a well-loved and very talented actor, there’s a real sense now that the French, or at least its media, are losing their patience with Naceri.

French daily Le Parisien set the context for Sunday’s conflagration by referring to his appearance at May’s Cannes Film Festival.

“After his umpteenth ‘return to grace’ at Cannes, Samy Naceri has once again found himself in trouble with the law,” the paper wearily reported.

What else has he done?

His career as an actor is pretty packed, but unfortunately, so is his criminal rap sheet. His full name might as well be “Samy Naceri Encore” (Samy Naceri again) since so many reports about his shenanigans start that way.

A brief resumé: In 2007 he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for attacking a stylist (or drug dealer, depending on who you believe) with an ashtray at a Paris restaurant. Naceri was outraged that the victim had kept him waiting, and left him needing 30 stitches.

In December 2006 he hit the headlines by being given a six-month sentence for racially abusing a black police officer, after having mixed alcohol and medication.

In 2007 he was also accused of attempted murder after stabbing a nightclub security guard in Aix-en-Provence.

In 2011 a bouncer at one of Luc Besson’s parties in Cannes determined that, despite Naceri’s invite, he wasn’t in an appropriate state to enter.

Naceri flew into a rage, hurling racial abuse at the black bouncer, throwing his arms about wildly, and generally screaming complete nonsense at whoever would listen, according to witnesses.

The list goes on; verbally abusing air hostesses, threatening to carry out the fatwa on British author Salman Rushdie, more fights with police and security guards, drinking and driving, possession of heroin, and at least two charges of exposing his genitals in public.

Happier times. Naceri (centre right) with French Oscar-winner and 'Taxi 2'
castmate Marion Cotillard, and director Luc Besson (far right), at Cannes in 2000.
(Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP)

What does he have to say for himself?

“I wasn’t drunk, like the papers are saying. You’ve got to stop adding in words, just to destroy the career of a guy who’s trying to keep his head above water,” he told French radio RTL earlier this week.

What do others say about him?

“Don’t let me down,” French film director Luc Besson told Naceri, after letting him know he had landed his breakthrough role as Marseillaise taxi driver Daniel Morales, in the 1998 hit ‘Taxi.’

This is the amateur footage of Sunday morning's attack on Naceri, on the streets of Paris. Naturally, it contains images of violence that some readers might find disturbing, as well as some bad language (in French.)

Naceri can be seen wearing a dark, open jacket and white shirt.

The Local's French Face of the Week is a person in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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