NÉCHIN, Belgium -- The last time a big star lit up this sleepy village of potato fields and rain-drenched pastures was in 1667, when the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, stopped by for the day. But even he may not have created quite the commotion caused by Gérard Depardieu, the celebrated actor, turbulent bon vivant and, since a visit to the mayor's office here on Dec. 7 to register as a resident, France's most reviled tax exile.
"I thought it was a joke," said the mayor, Daniel Senesael, recalling his disbelief when he was first told that Mr. Depardieu intended to leave his mansion in Paris and move to Néchin, a rural settlement in Belgium with just 2,200 people, two cafes, a fast-food fry shop, a ruined chateau and no cinema.
"Let's be honest, this is not Las Vegas," Mr. Senesael said. "There are no lights and no discos. I get flooded with complaints when anyone suggests opening even a wind farm."
Michel Sardou, a veteran French singer who has joined a frenzy of criticism directed at Mr. Depardieu in France, mocked the actor's flight to Néchin, predicting that he would be "as bored as a rat" here. "So, there is some divine justice after all," the singer joked on French television.
For Mr. Depardieu, and scores of wealthy French citizens who already live here, however, Néchin does have one seductive asset: it is beyond the reach of the French tax authorities but so close to France that an unmarked border running through the village puts the gardens of some properties in France and adjoining houses in Belgium.
"Our geographic situation makes us very attractive," said Mr. Senesael, noting that Néchin is an easy place to get into and out of, with a nearby airport, a major highway and a railway station just a few miles away in the French city of Lille with regular high-speed trains to Paris, Brussels and London.
"Nobody should be astonished that big fortunes have found a certain fiscal advantage" in moving to this side of the border, said the mayor, whose domain covers Néchin and a cluster of other hamlets that form what is known as the Entity of Estaimpuis. Mr. Depardieu's critics, he said, should direct their ire not at the actor but at the failure of European governments to harmonize tax rates across the 27 nations of the European Union.
A customs post and border guards disappeared decades ago from the end of Néchin's main street, swept away by Europe's effort after World War II to break down barriers that led to past conflicts and to allow for the free flow of goods, services and people.
Still firmly in place, however, are rigidly defined tax frontiers that mean that people living just a few yards from one another can pay vastly different levels of tax, particularly if they happen to be wealthy.
Belgium has higher income taxes for most people than in much of Europe, but the country is much easier on the rich than France, where the government of President François Hollande has announced a "temporary supertax" of 75 percent on annual incomes of more than 1 million euros, or about $1.3 million. France's Constitutional Council on Saturday declared the tax unconstitutional, prompting the government to announce that it would introduce a revised version next year. France also has a "wealth tax" on assets worth more than $1.7 million, something that does not exist in Belgium, as well as far higher taxes on capital gains and inheritance.
"We've abolished border controls but not all the other stupidities," said Philippe Vandenhemel, the owner of a garage just outside Néchin that sells and repairs imported American cars and was visited several times by Mr. Depardieu. (The actor apparently likes old American cars.)
Mr. Vandenhemel scoffed at attacks on the movie star by French politicians and commentators. "If I were in his shoes, I would do exactly the same thing and leave," he said. Mr. Depardieu, he added, will benefit not only from lower taxes in Belgium but also from the fact that "we Belgians are not jealous and don't mind people getting rich."
"Jealousy is France's national disease," he said.
Mr. Hollande, who made a pledge to squeeze the rich to help reduce the government's budget deficit a cornerstone of his successful election campaign this year, once said on television, "I don't like the rich." His right-wing predecessor and rival and in the May election, Nicolas Sarkozy, lost in part because he flaunted a liking for expensive watches and other accessories and the company of rich friends, a habit that earned him mockery as "Le Président Bling-Bling."
In an angry open letter to France's prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, Mr. Depardieu, 64 -- a national icon who has played quintessentially French figures like Obélix, Cyrano de Bergerac and the hunchback farmer in "Jean de Florette" -- said he was renouncing his French citizenship and leaving "because you believe that success, creation, talent -- difference, in fact -- must be punished." He said that he had paid $192 million in taxes over 45 years and complained that the state this year took 85 percent of his income.
The French government has stuck to its guns, with officials lining up to criticize Mr. Depardieu, who, incidentally, backed Mr. Sarkozy in the election.
Jérôme Cahuzac, the budget minister, derided Mr. Depardieu's departure as a "big win for Belgian cinema." More recently, Mr. Cahuzac has been busy denying reports by a French news site, Mediapart, that he had kept his own money in a bank account in Switzerland and then in Singapore, popular havens for Europeans seeking to hide assets.
Europe 1, a French radio station, reported this month that 5,000 French citizens had left the country for tax reasons since Mr. Hollande's election. The Finance Ministry in Paris questioned the accuracy of that report but said it had no alternative estimate.
When reports surfaced soon after Mr. Hollande's victory that Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH and one of France's richest people, was seeking Belgian nationality -- but, he insisted, not refuge from French taxes -- the left-wing newspaper Libération splashed the news across its front page with the headline "Get lost, rich jerk!"
Fleeing France to escape high taxes, however, did not begin with Mr. Hollande's administration. Alain Delon, another French movie star, moved to Switzerland in the 1980s, when France's last Socialist president, François Mitterrand, was in power. Johnny Hallyday, a French rocker, also left, as did the singer Charles Aznavour, the tennis star Yannick Noah and many others, primarily for Switzerland and Belgium.
Néchin, said Mr. Senesael, the mayor, has been welcoming people from France for decades, and they now account for 28 percent of the population. The proportion has doubled, he said, since he was first elected mayor 18 years ago.
Most of the arrivals from France are not wealthy and come here for the "tranquil lifestyle and security," but, according to the mayor, they include around 20 members of the Mulliez family, one of France's richest clans, which controls the supermarket chain Auchan.
The traffic is not all one-way. Many Belgians here, for example, shop in France, where the sales tax is much lower. This, Mr. Senesael said, costs Belgium "hundreds of millions of euros" in lost revenue and, along with the money France loses when people like Mr. Depardieu depart, shows why Europe needs to "deal with a deep social problem" and harmonize its taxes.
Mr. Hollande has been pushing for that, too, but is not likely to get very far, especially because other countries suspect that Paris wants to raise everyone else's rates to French levels.
"Imposing a 75 percent marginal tax rate does not have much democratic support outside France," Belgium's foreign minister, Didier Reynders, told the newspaper Le Figaro. In the meantime, he said, Belgium is happy to welcome anyone who wants to follow in Mr. Depardieu's footsteps.
Mr. Depardieu, who is formally registered as "domiciled" in Néchin since his visit to the mayor in early December, still has not actually moved into a house he bought here. But he has visited a few times, dining at bistros in nearby villages and buying sausages from a Néchin butcher.
Residents grumble about an invasion of foreign television crews from as far away as Russia but seem pleased that Mr. Depardieu has chosen their village. Many are baffled that such a famous, larger-than-life star would want to live in a place where the most exciting event in recent years was a party for local government workers early this year at which the mayor stripped down to his undershorts while singing "Naked and Tanned All Over," a risqué French chanson.
The only dissonant voices have come from outsiders. The Belgium Workers' Party, a Marxist group, organized a trip to the village by a dozen activists, who staged a protest outside what they thought was Mr. Depardieu's house. They went to the wrong address, the mayor said, and were in fact outside the home of a French millionaire who arrived long before Mr. Depardieu.
Scott Sayare contributed reporting from Paris.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.