French prosecutors said Wednesday they had opened an inquiry after actor Judith Godreche filed a complaint against film director Benoit Jacquot, accusing him of raping her in a relationship that began when she was 14 and he was 25 years her senior.
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Jacquot, one of France’s most prominent directors, denied the accusations in comments to the Le Monde newspaper, which also interviewed Godreche. He declined to comment further when contacted by AFP.
On Tuesday, 51-year-old Godreche lodged a formal complaint with the police’s Juvenile Protection Brigade (BPM) of alleged rape of a minor by a person in a position of authority, her lawyer Laure Heinich told AFP.
On Wednesday, the Paris prosecutor’s office told AFP that a preliminary investigation had been opened, with the BPM in charge of the case.
The announcement comes as French cinema is reeling from claims that the world of arts has shrugged off sexism and sexual abuse for decades.
Godreche in January on social media accused Jacquot, now 77, of manipulating her into a relationship as a vulnerable underage actor.
The crime is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment, though the statute of limitations has “probably” expired in the case, Le Monde said.
The relationship began in the spring of 1986, when Godreche was 14, and ended in the early 1990s.
Godreche said she remained “in his grip” for six years, starring in two films he directed, “Les Mendiants” (“The Beggars”) in 1988 and “La Desenchantee” (“The Disenchanted”) in 1990.
She decided to speak out after discovering him boasting about their relationship being a “transgression”, and cinema providing a “cover” for it, in a 2011 documentary.
Jacquot, a director with more than 50 films and TV films to his name, has said he needs to be “in love” with his actresses to film them.
He has worked with established stars such as Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert, as well as Godreche, Virginie Ledoyen and Isild Le Besco as teenagers.
In 2015, he described his work as “pushing an actress to pass a threshold”.
“The best way to do all that is to be in the same bed,” he said.
Godreche spoke to Le Monde at length about her relationship with Jacquot, recounting how he first had sex with her.
“He took my hand and led me upstairs, telling me to lie down on his bed,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “I have no memory of being kissed. It’s as if there was no tenderness at all.”
Le Monde said the director talked to the teenager about sadism in cinema and played sadomasochistic sexual games with her.
He also forbade her to use any contraception and grew especially violent towards the end of their relationship, the newspaper said.
“It’s a story similar to stories of children who are kidnapped and grow up without seeing the world, and who can’t think ill of their captor,” the actress wrote in a statement for the Juvenile Protection Brigade, quoted by the newspaper.
“I wanted Benoit to agree to be my friend, not to have me, I didn’t want his body.”
In a separate letter addressed to her 18-year-old daughter Tess and published by Le Monde, Godreche said she had never consented to the relationship with the director.
She wrote she had thought how she could “kill a man who would make you his mistress at 14”.
Speaking to Le Monde, Jacquot said he was “very much in love” with Godreche and they lived together.
“I was in a very bad way, I didn’t want to make any more films, and she pulled me out of the dark,” he was quoted as saying. “It was me, without irony, who was under her spell for six years.”
Godreche was among those in 2017 to speak out against US movie producer Harvey Weinstein at the height of the #MeToo movement.
Years later the campaign has picked up momentum in France and is forcing a fresh debate about sexism and sexual violence in French cinema.
Newly released footage of film star Gerard Depardieu making obscene comments sparked an uproar in the country in December, with President Emmanuel Macron saying the actor had become the target of a “manhunt”.