A Montreal theatre is defending its choice of a convicted killer for a role in one of its new productions, arguing that performing may help Bertrand Cantat reintegrate into society.

Cantat, a French rock star, hit his girlfriend during an argument while on vacation in Lithuania in 2003. Marie Trintignant, a popular French actress, died a few days later in hospital.

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French actress Marie Trintignant, shown during a France 2 network interview in Paris in 2001, died after being assaulted by boyfriend Bertrand Cantat. (Associated Press)

Cantat has always maintained the incident was an accident. He was convicted on the charge of murder with indirect intent.

Cantat, who served half of his eight-year sentence in France and was released in 2007, is to be featured as a singer in a Greek tragedy at Le Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal next year.

Lorraine Pintal, director of the theatre, said Cantat is trying to reintegrate into society by doing what he does best — rock 'n' roll. She said in a civilized society people deserve a second chance.

"We can't as a theatre company judge [Cantat] for a second time," Pintal said.

Actors at the season launch on Monday night warmly applauded the decision.

Marc Cassivi, a culture critic with La Presse newspaper, said Cantat has served his time and deserves a second chance.

Others said the theatre's choice could send the wrong message to offenders and victims of such crimes.

"It's not a banal case, we're talking about a man who beat his girlfrend to death," said Jocelyne Robert, a sex therapist.

Cantat returned to the stage in October 2010 for his first musical performance since being released and was welcomed by the crowd in Bègles near Bordeaux.

However, the appearance sparked a debate among Cantat supporters and those who said he had no place on a stage after such a crime.

Cantat was the former lead singer of French rock band Noir Désir.