MOSCOW: It was the movie role that won Gerard Depardieu a Russian passport. But the actor's turn as the demonic priest Rasputin who mesmerised the Tsar's family has had a critical mauling in Russia.
"He doesn't succeed in playing the Siberian elder as infernal. Nor does he manage to be comic," wrote the news website Gazeta.ru.
For Russian Time Out, " Rasputin is so bad, it's better to imagine it was a hallucination".
Depardieu takes the title role in "Rasputin," a film featuring Russian and French actors, depicting the life and death of the mysterious priest who gained the trust of the last tsar Nicholas II.
President Vladimir Putin cited Depardieu's Rasputin role as a cultural contribution that justified giving him citizenship.
"This is a work that is related to all of Russian cinema, to Russian culture as a whole. And therefore I think this decision is justified," Putin said in April.
Depardieu revealed that he even gave Putin the script to read.
The actor told Izvestia daily in an interview published Friday that "I felt very close to Rasputin in my link to the spiritual world."
While Depardieu is well-loved in Russia, his swift acquisition of citizenship and apartments in Grozny and the provincial town of Saransk have prompted much mirth and cynicism.
His Rasputin has done little to diminish that.
The French-Russian co-production first came out as a mini-series in France to a critical drubbing. It has now been substantially reworked as a Russian feature film.
Depardieu doesn't speak Russian but has been voiced by a well-known actor, Sergei Garmash.
The film's promotional campaign goes for the mystical angle, with the cutline "A gift or a curse?" and graphics featuring a pentagram.
But the revamp failed to convince critics, who slammed the film as a collection of colourful cliches and said Depardieu did not inhabit the role.
Trud newspaper called the film a "comic strip in costume."
"The French Rasputin isn't memorable for any new shades of demonism nor for the real saintliness his followers believed in, but more because of the curious shape of his nose," wrote Kommersant daily.
Depardieu did not show up for the premiere in Moscow.
Gazeta.ru news website took a satirical look at Depardieu's brief burst of interest in Russia, noting that "he has apparently understood everything about the mysterious Russian soul and moved to Belgium."
It compared Rasputin and Depardieu, writing that it could be said of both that "the talent was there but the Devil led him astray."