PARIS (AFP) – The heartbreaking testimony of one of France’s most acclaimed actresses who said she was sexually harassed as a 12-year-old by the director of her first film has shaken France’s film industry.
Adele Haenel, who has won two French Oscars, has garnered unprecedented support since she spoke out on Monday claiming that she was subjected to “forced kisses on the neck” and “repeated touching” from a film-maker who became obsessed with her.
In a long and moving interview livestreamed by the investigative website Medipart, Haenel, now 30, appealed for French society to open its eyes to abuse in its midst.
“Monsters don’t exist,” she said.
“This is… our fathers, our friends, our brothers we are talking about. As long as we don’t see this, we’ll never move forward.”
Director Christophe Ruggia at first strongly denied he had done anything wrong, but after being expelled from the French directors’ guild he once led, he admitted on Wednesday (Nov 6) to having made “errors”.
“I did not see that my adulation and the hopes I placed in her, might – given her young age – be distressing (for her),” he said.
“If that is the case, I ask her to forgive me,” 54-year-old Ruggia added.
While the #MeToo movement rocked Hollywood after the accusations about the disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein broke two years ago, the reaction in France was less than dramatic, even though some of Weinstein’s alleged assaults took place at the Cannes film festival.
Indeed, France’s biggest female star, Catherine Deneuve, attacked the movement as a “puritanical witch-hunt” last year after signing an open letter with 100 other prominent French women defending men’s right to “hit on” women.
French film industry figures – including Deneuve, who suffered a minor stroke on Wednesday – have also long defended the controversial director Roman Polanski.
A pariah in Hollywood after his conviction for raping a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s, the maker of Rosemary’s Baby has lived in France since as a fugitive from US justice.
But the big outpouring of support for Haenel may be turning France’s more laissez-faire attitude on its head.
Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard was one of the first to back Haenel, hailing her for “breaking a silence that was so heavy”.
“You have left a mark in history… Your courage is a gift of unparallelled generosity for women and men,” she added.