If there is a myth that is deeply rooted in the psyche of French cinema, it is that of the muse and the pygmalion. The idea that a filmmaker inspired by a muse can indulge in all the transgressions with an actress who admires him, regardless of the age of both, without consideration for the age gap between them nor the power mechanisms in place.
That the all-powerful filmmaker can exert a yoke over a young actress, both on and off a film set, has for too long been assimilated to a sort of romantic inevitability in France. Until this day.
French cinema is experiencing its Matzneff episode, while The consent, Vanessa Filho’s film adaptation of Vanessa Springora’s famous story, is due to be released in Quebec on February 23. The #metoo movement may have only really taken off in France with the recent revelations about Gérard Depardieu, but the hurricane is blowing hard.
Judith Godrèche, who denounced in 2017 an attempted rape of Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times, dropped two bombs this week. On Tuesday, the 51-year-old actress filed a complaint for “violent rape of a minor under the age of 15” committed by a person in authority against the filmmaker Benoît Jacquot (farewell to the Queen). On Thursday, the actress filed the same accusations with the minor protection brigade of the Paris judicial police against director Jacques Doillon (Ponette).
Jacquot, 77, and Doillon, 79, are the subject of a preliminary investigation for crimes punishable by 20 years of imprisonment (but for which, in France, there is, it seems, a statute of limitations) . Both deny most of the allegations.
On Thursday, Agence France-Presse also revealed that the prosecution was requesting a trial against the filmmaker Christophe Ruggia (Devils) for sexual assault on actress Adèle Haenel. She was between 12 and 15 years old at the time of the events. Ruggia is 24 years his senior. “After being shocked by Judith Godrèche’s story, I read the prosecutor’s indictment today,” Adèle Haenel told the Mediapart website. “To read in this indictment that the facts are sufficiently characterized, corroborated by testimonies and that my statements are constant, precise and crude touches me a lot. »
Last May, Adèle Haenel accused the entire French cinema sector of being complicit, through its silence, with the sexual predators who lurk on film sets. In light of the revelations of recent days, it is difficult to contradict her.
In the documentary Icon of French Cinema, broadcast a few weeks ago on the ARTE channel, Judith Godrèche spoke of her adolescence in French cinema, under the influence of a director much older than her, whom she did not name. It was easy to recognize Benoît Jacquot, whom she dated from the age of 14 to 20, until their separation in 1992, after the filming of The disenchanted, the film that revealed it. The story of a young woman forced to sleep with an old uncle to provide for her family.
Judith Godrèche revealed this week in a daily investigation The world that Jacquot, 25 years her senior, had hit, brutalized and forced her to engage in violent sexual practices during her adolescence. Other actresses have denounced Benoît Jacquot. Julia Roy accused him of “verbal and physical violence”, Laurence Cordier and Vahina Giocante said that Benoît Jacquot had been odious after they had refused his sexual advances. Jacquot would confuse “creative desire and sexual desire”, according to Vahina Giocante, who was 17 years old at the time of the alleged facts.
Benoît Jacquot, who agreed to meet The world, offered a defense to these accusations that was both sadly predictable and lamentable. According to him, Judith Godrèche would be an actress lacking notoriety and he himself would be the victim of a “quite frightening neopuritanism” imported from the United States. As you might have guessed, introspection does not seem to be his main quality.
At the time when Judith Godrèche was dating Benoît Jacquot, she was invited by one of her friends, Jacques Doillon, to discuss at his home the script for a film which would feature a teenage girl in a relationship with a boy of her age whose father becomes lover. On Thursday, the actress declared to the Paris judicial police that she had been raped at that time by Doillon, at the home he shared with his partner at the time, Jane Birkin.
The actress says she also suffered sexual assault from Doillon on the set of the same film, The 15 year old girl, released in 1989. The 45-year-old director, she says, would have fired the main actor to replace him himself, adding at the last minute a sex scene with Judith Godrèche, who was then the same age as her character. “We do forty-five takes. I take off my sweater, I’m shirtless, he gropes me and he makes out with me,” she told World. Jane Birkin, who was Doillon’s assistant, described in her autobiography the discomfort felt on set.
Actress Anna Mouglalis also told World having suffered a sexual assault from Jacques Doillon in 2011. The filmmaker allegedly tried to kiss her by force at her home, while his companion Samuel Benchetrit was in the next room. The actress Isild Le Besco, who also accuses Benoît Jacquot of “psychological or physical violence”, revealed to World having been replaced by Doillon on the set of Directly to the west (2001) by his daughter Lou, because she refused to sleep with the director. She was 18 at the time. Doillon was 56 years old.
In 1989 took the poster White wedding by Jean-Claude Brisseau, which also featured an affair between a teenager (Vanessa Paradis, 16 years old) and a middle-aged man (Bruno Cremer, 60 years old). Brisseau, who died in 2019, was accused by around twenty actresses, some minors, of sexual misconduct. He was convicted in 2005 for the sexual harassment of two actresses on whom he had subjected “erotic trials”.
Another heir of the New Wave, Philippe Garrel, 75, was accused last summer by five actresses who confided to Mediapart that they had received sexual propositions from him in a professional setting.
There has obviously been an appalling complacency in France towards directors who use their prestige and notoriety to seduce young actresses. Isild Le Besco’s sister, the actress and director Maïwenn, was in a relationship with Luc Besson from the age of 15. When they married the following year, in 1992, Besson was twice his age.
There is a very fine line between enslavement and free and informed consent. As there is a very thin line between seduction and predation or what is commonly called grooming. For too long, under the pretext of their admiration for a muse, filmmakers have abused their power, their authority and the trust of young muses thrown to the pygmalions. Women like Adèle Haenel and Judith Godrèche dare to denounce them. Let’s hope they will finally be heard.