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Cannes spotlights Judith Godrèche, icon of France’s #MeToo moment


The Cannes Film Festival kept up its female focus on Wednesday with the pounding, action-packed “Mad Max” prequel “Furiosa” and the soft-spoken uprising of French actress Judith Godrèche, who has spearheaded the host country’s long-awaited #MeToo reckoning.

A day after celebrating female icons of film in an emotional opening ceremony, the 77th Cannes Film Festival got the ball rolling with a Meryl Streep masterclass and a first batch of films that put women’s stories centre-stage. 

Streep, who was awarded an honorary Palme d’Or on Tuesday, shared intimate stories from her career and spoke about the huge progress of women in the industry during a talk to festivalgoers. 

“The biggest stars in the world are women right now,” she said, pointing out that her early roles were often so memorable “because she was the only woman in the film”. 

Meryl Streep picked up an honorary Palme d'Or on the festival's opening night.
Meryl Streep picked up an honorary Palme d’Or on the festival’s opening night. © Sarah Meyssonnier, Reuters

The race for the Palme d’Or kicked off later in the day with French newcomer Agathe Riedinger’s “Wild Diamond”, this year’s only debut feature in the main competition and one of only four entries by women. It explored themes of femininity, the obsession with beauty and the role of social-media influencers. 

Next up were Magnus von Horn’s “The Girl with the Needle”, about a Danish woman running an underground adoption agency after World War I, and the feverishly awaited red-carpet premiere of “Furiosa”, the latest instalment of George Miller’s “Mad Max” franchise.  

Fast and Furiosa 

It’s been 45 years since an obscure Australian revenge thriller about a very angry man called Max caused a stir at Cannes’ film market, paving the way for the cult trilogy that pioneered a rare blend of punk western and post-apocalyptic biker movie. 

Miller revived the franchise a decade ago with his breathless, high-octane reboot “Fury Road”, in which the titular Max was largely upstaged by Charlize Theron’s one-armed Furiosa. A prequel to the events of that film, his latest dystopia-on-wheels stars Anya Taylor-Joy as a young Furiosa, playing alongside “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth.  

Arts24 in Cannes!

Arts24 in Cannes! © France 24

Even as Miller’s fiery engines roared in the Grand Théâtre Lumière, Cannes opened its Un Certain Regard sidebar with another hot ticket: a short film by Judith Godrèche, the French actor and director whose accounts of the grooming she says she endured as a teenage actor have triggered a belated #MeToo reckoning in France. 

Godrèche shot the 17-minute film during a Paris gathering of hundreds of women who wrote to her with their own stories of sexual abuse. Titled “Moi Aussi” (Me Too, in French), it also features her daughter Tess Bathélémy, the protagonist of her hit series “Icon of French cinema”. 

A choral piece, “Moi Aussi” unites victims of all ages, some of them male, who find strength and solace in speaking out about their personal trauma. Voiceovers evoke the suffering they endured, some as young as three, some for over a decade, abused by a stepfather, a teacher, a colleague or a priest.  

Close-ups, interspersed with wide shots of the gathering, reveal portraits of anguish, sorrow and disgust, but also of resilience, compassion and sorority.  

“This film belongs to those who finally had a chance to tell their story, and those who still live in silence,” add the closing credits. 

France’s #MeToo moment 

The screening marked an early climax for a festival that has long been accused of doing too little to foster gender parity in film and where the disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein once held court. 

In 2017, at the dawn of the #MeToo era, Godrèche was among the first to speak out against Weinstein, telling the New York Times that the film producer assaulted her in a hotel at the Cannes Film Festival two decades earlier, when she was 24.  

Years later, the actor-turned-filmmaker has helped write a new chapter in France’s troubled reckoning with sex abuse in the film industry.  

French prosecutors opened an investigation in February after Godrèche, now 51, said she was groomed and raped by filmmaker Benoît Jacquot during a “predatory” relationship that started when she was 14 and he was 39. Paris prosecutors are also investigating a complaint she filed against another prominent filmmaker, Jacques Doillon, whom she accused of sexually abusing her when she was 15. 

Both directors have denied the allegations, which have further rattled an industry already under fire for having shrugged off sexism and sexual abuse for decades.  

Read more‘Wind of revolt’ sweeps French cinema in belated #MeToo reckoning

Godrèche recently moved back to France after a 10-year stint in New York. Her series “Icon of French cinema” tells the story of a French film star’s return to Paris after a decade in Hollywood. Through flashbacks, it revisits the abuse she endured as a 14-year-old child actress groomed by a leading French director, without naming him.  

In an Instagram post in early January, Godrèche said she decided to name Jacquot after coming across a 2011 documentary in which he described cinema as a “sort of cover” for illicit behaviour. He spoke of his relationship with the then child actress as a form of “transgression” that brought him “a degree of admiration” in the “small world of cinema”. 

Since then, Godrèche has spoken passionately about the need for change in the film industry, including before a French Senate commission. In a speech to the Césars, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, she lamented the silence of her peers, stating: “I see you but I do not hear you”. 

Fall of a giant  

Talk of powerful men turning a blind eye to allegations of abuse, or even siding with purported aggressors, became the subject of a nationwide controversy in late December when French President Emmanuel Macron condemned a “manhunt” targeting French film icon Gérard Depardieu, whom he described as a “genius of his art” who “makes France proud”. 

Depardieu has been under formal investigation for rape since 2020 and has been accused of rape or sexual assault by a dozen other women – allegations he denies. The giant of French film, with more than 200 titles to his name, faces trial in October on allegations of sexual assault brought by two women who claim he assaulted them on the set of the French film “The Green Shutters” in 2011. He denies all charges. 

© France 24

Days ahead of the Cannes Film Festival, the satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné said Depardieu’s voice had been erased from Michel Hazanavicius Holocaust-themed animation film “The Most Precious of Cargoes”, which will screen in competition, to avoid scuppering a film that has cost €12 million and employed more than a hundred people over the past 4 years. 

In a feverish run-up to the Riviera gathering, French news outlets reported that Cannes had set up a crisis management team to prepare for new explosive allegations of abuse in the industry, amid rumours of a secret list of alleged abusers that included household names in French film. 

On Monday, the investigate website Mediapart, which has played a leading part in disclosing allegations of sex abuse in the industry, denied reports it planned to out offenders during the festival’s curtain-raiser. It denounced a “pathetic media circus” that only served to deflect attention from the message carried by the likes of Godrèche. 

Signs of progress 

Ahead of Wednesday’s screening, Godrèche told reporters she did not believe in trial-by-media. 

“The reason people are unable to speak up is because they’re afraid they will lose their job,” she said. “I don’t think this kind of hype is productive. It creates fears all over the place, fantasies, hatreds.” 

Cannes Film Festival jury president Gerwig speaks about #MeToo progress (2024)

Cannes Film Festival jury president Gerwig speaks about #MeToo progress (2024) © France 24

Asked about #MeToo expanding in France, this year’s jury head Greta Gerwig told a press conference in Cannes she saw reason for optimism about the improving status of women in cinema.  

“I think people in the community of movies telling us stories and trying to change things for the better is only good,” Gerwig said. “I have seen substantive change in the American film community, and I think it’s important that we continue to expand that conversation. So I think it’s only moving everything in the correct direction. Keep those lines of communication open.” 

Gerwig cited “very many concrete changes” that have happened in the US film industry in recent years, particularly the use of intimacy coordinators who help choreograph sex scenes between actors to avoid cases of abuse on set. 

Read moreFrench cinema has its #MeToo moment, sparking growing need for intimacy coordinators

Echoing her words, French star Lea Seydoux, who appeared in the opening night film “The Second Act”, said she had personally witnessed more respect for women on sets since the start of the #MeToo movement. 

“I was an actress before and after, and I can only welcome the change,” said Seydoux, who famously denounced the director of her Cannes-winning breakthrough “Blue is the Warmest Colour” for the “horrible” conditions when shooting its explicit sex scenes. 

“Today, I see that there is respect on set, even for intimate scenes,” Seydoux told reporters on Wednesday. “When I shoot, there is more respect, I feel this overall change.”

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