By CATHERINE FIELD
The cliche for this sort of relationship is love-hate. Hatred there certainly has been. Is it now time for love?
Gerard Depardieu and his son Guillaume, arguably the finest actors of their generations, have been tearing at each other in a verbal strife so vicious and public that France has been left bemused.
Gerard is twice winner of the Cesar - France's equivalent of the Oscar - and is well known abroad for the movies Jean de Florette, Green Card and Le Dernier Metro.
Guillaume landed himself a starring role at the age of 20 and won a Cesar in 1995 for the movie Les Apprentis, and played opposite Catherine Deneuve four years later in a hard-edged thriller, Pola X.
For years the relationship has been marked by public jabs and insults at each other, but now Guillaume, 32, has set the bar higher with an unvarnished account of his life.
His book Tout Donner (Giving Everything) is flying off the shelves, and everyone is asking about the demons that haunt this passionate, troubled young man - and the burden of bearing the Depardieu family name.
As thin, wiry and angry as his father is bear-like and outwardly placid, the younger Depardieu has regularly graced the front pages, and not just for his form as an actor. He is the original wild child, with a criminal record to match.
Guillaume has eight convictions for theft, drug possession, drunken driving, insulting a policeman and illegal use of a gun. In 1993 he was given a one-year jail term for heroin dealing (he blames his time in prison for turning him into an "animal").
In 1995, a smash on a Paris motorway left his leg so badly damaged that he needed 17 operations over the next seven years. His leg eventually became infected with a drug-resistant bacteria and was amputated last year, prompting him to sue the hospital.
In September last year, Guillaume received a nine-month suspended term for firing at a movie fan who approached him on a street in the Normandy resort of Trouville. Only the swift intervention of a bystander, who pulled Depardieu's arm away, prevented the fan from being hit.
To round off 2003 as a year to remember, Guillaume's wife, Elise, filed for divorce and claimed custody of their 3-year-old daughter, Louise.
In Tout Donner, written in the form of interviews with a TV journalist, Marc-Olivier Fogiel, Guillaume raises the curtain on life as his father's son: always living in the shadow of a father whom he describes as absent, neglectful, drunken, emotionally manipulative, obsessed by money and vaingloriously seeking out the company of the powerful.
Everything seems to be an act of rebellion against his father, or at least an appeal for his attention. Guillaume took to drink, became addicted to heroin and cocaine for six years - he says he overdosed half a dozen times - and for a while became a gigolo and male prostitute, servicing both sexes.
"In my dreams, I have dreamed of killing my father a thousand times," Guillaume says. "He is a hypocrite, a faker, a liar, vengeful, cowardly, a lightweight."
Gerard Depardieu may be covered in glory - he has been awarded the Legion of Honour for his services to acting - but his past strangely mirrors that of his son.
He grew up, poor and abused, in a large family in the town of Chateauroux, central France, and ducked out of school to hang out with delinquents and criminals. His life has been marked by heavy drinking, bulimia (he has had a quintuple heart bypass) and affairs.
In France, though, there is none of the tut-tutting and false prudishness of Anglo-Saxon culture, and indeed there is a deep respect for Depardieu's fondness for food, flesh and wine, the symbols for the French of life itself.
British tabloids may have lapped up Guillaume's confessions to portray him as a showbiz brat and his father as an ogre. But the French media have been thoughtful and sympathetic to both and pondered at length on what can drive a father and a son to this kind of terrifying, open strife.
Guillaume "is a kind of modern Rimbaud, out of kilter with life," said the daily Le Parisien, while Liberation said the two men were locked in a "emotional cannibalism", each of them feeding off the guilt and rivalry they sensed in the other.
The older Depardieu, in an interview last September, blasted Guillaume as "very difficult, incorrigible" and said he refused to take his son's phone calls "as it's better for his mental health" (remarks that prompted Guillaume to say Gerard was "a coward, conman and a fraud" and "the only man I know who lies to his analyst").
With the publication of Tout Donner, Gerard has given another interview to make a public semi-apology to Guillaume.
"For someone with his sensitivity, I was not the perfect father. I didn't pay enough attention to the time I was absent. Someone who has suffered since childhood, as he has suffered, has the right to bellow, to bite, as he is doing."
He added: "This book is a cry [for help]. He is my son, I love him as he is."
These painful exchanges are almost like watching a surgeon operating on himself, slicing open his flesh and exposing his bones and tissues to public view.
But psychiatrist Patrice Huerre says that they could be a "a way of communicating" between two men with mighty egos and who, as actors, will turn to a public forum to convey their emotions - and who will always prefer high drama to insipidness.
"Where there is intensity, there naturally is passion, whether you want to describe it as hatred or love," says Huerre.
"From their point of view, a passionate relationship conducted like this at least is better than the fear of the void, of being forgotten, or indifference."