Grozny (dpa) - French-born actor Gerard Depardieu on Tuesday defended his decision to shoot a gangster film in Russia's Caucasus region of Chechnya.
"I followed everything that happened here and saw a city totally rebuilt and very sympathetic people," Depardieu said at a press conference in the regional capital, Grozny, which was reduced to rubble during two wars beginning in 1994.
The actor, who accepted a Russian passport from President Vladimir Putin in January after saying he would leave France to protest a planned 75-per-cent income tax, has been widely criticized for keeping warm relations with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, whom critics have accused of grave human rights violations.
"I saw more love and friendship than hate here," said the star of the Asterix and Obelix movies and Cyrano de Bergerac.
In his latest film, called Turquoise, Depardieu plays a French art thief who comes to Russia to solve and avenge the murder of his son.
Depardieu and the film's director and producer, who were driven around Grozny in government limousines, adamantly refused to answer any questions about politics, arguing they were unrelated to the film.
Asked if Kadyrov had any input on the script, producer Arnaud Frilet merely confirmed that he had read it. "If today we shoot this movie, probably he likes the story," Frilet said.
Critics have accused Kadyrov of running Chechnya like a personal fiefdom and using vast federal budget subsidies partly for racehorses and a luxury car park.
Director Philippe Martinez berated a reporter for linking the film's revenge theme to a series of unsolved murders among Kadyrov's opponents. "Why do you ask me that bullshit question?" he asked.
British model and actress Elisabeth Hurley, who plays Depardieu's lover, said Martinez had first not told her about Chechnya when he asked her to join the cast. When he told her weeks later, "I had to take a very deep breath" she said, adding that she then thought it was a "good opportunity" to come to a part of the world she would not necessarily visit.
"What I have seen of Grozny has been very, very touching," she said.