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#MeToo has struggled to find traction in France. Then Judith Godrèche showed up

CANNES, France (AP) — Before Judith Godrèche launched the #MeToo wave in French industry, she was one of the first high-profile actresses to speak out publicly against Harvey Weinstein.

Godrèche was 24 years old and attended the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of his film “Ridicule”. Weinstein, who had just acquired the film, invited her to his suite at the Hôtel du Cap to discuss a possible Oscar campaign. Weinstein, she told the New York Times in 2017, forced himself on her and she fled.

That was in 1996. Today, Godrèche is in Cannes at another pivotal moment in the #MeToo movement. On Wednesday, months after she alleged that two prominent filmmakers sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager, Godrèche presented her poignant short film, “Moi aussi” (“Me Too”).

“It’s extremely meaningful to me to be there because that’s where Harvey tried to rape me,” Godrèche said in an interview. “But honestly, there are so many places in the world and so many sets and places and times in my life as an actress that weren’t OK. If I were to see the world only from that perspective every time I experience something movie related, I think I would run away and stop.

Instead, Godrèche became the leading figure of the #MeToo movement in France. In February, Godrèche filed a complaint against director Benoît Jacquot for “forced rape” and against filmmaker Jacques Doillon for “violent rape” during the filming of “La Fille de 15 ans” in 1989. Both men denied these charges. allegations.

In France, which had resisted the #MeToo movement, the allegations caused a new shock wave in the industry. French Culture Minister Rachida Dati criticized French cinema for having “collectively turned a blind eye for decades” to sexual violence. At the César ceremony, the French equivalent of the Oscars, Godrèche asked the audience: “Is it possible that we can look the truth in the eye?

In the wake of Godrèche’s strong statements, more and more women have come forward and Cannes organizers are preparing for other revelations during the festival.

“It’s a wonderful thing that women are speaking out now,” actress Léa Seydoux told reporters in Cannes on Wednesday. “Things are clearly changing and it’s about time that change. »

Godrèche was hailed as a heroine by many and criticized as a “puritan” by others.

“For me, it’s a pretty weird time,” says Godrèche. “There is so much hatred and strange fantasies projected onto me. People look at me like I’m a radioactive thing.

After Godrèche came forward with her allegations against Jacquot and Doillon, she created an email address as a repository for anyone who had suffered sexual abuse. In 15 days, she received some 5,000 testimonials. On March 23, around a thousand writers gathered on a boulevard in Paris.

Godrèche, 52, made this gathering a “Me Too”, dedicated to “all those who one day were finally able to tell their story” and “all those who still live in silence”. It was to be previewed Wednesday evening during the opening ceremony of the Un Certain Regard parallel section in Cannes.

Godrèche walked the festival’s red carpet earlier in the day with the film’s collaborators, before the premiere of “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.” Together, they stood on the steps of the Palais des Festivals, hands over their mouths.

Cannes has seen several dramatic protests in favor of women in cinema in recent years. At a Time’s Up event in 2018, 82 women, including Cate Blanchett and Kristen Stewart, stood up on the steps of the Palace to protest. The following year, Thierry Frémaux, artistic director of Cannes, signed a commitment to gender parity during a gathering.

But such moments are exceptional in France. In 2018, Catherine Deneuve was a signatory to an open letter published in Le Monde which affirmed that the #MeToo movement had gone too far. In 2020, while Roman Polanski won the César for best director, actress Adèle Haenel – who declared that year to have been sexually harassed by French director Christophe Ruggia between the ages of 12 and 15 – left the ceremony. Ruggia denied the allegation. Last year, Haenel announced she was leaving the French film industry completely due to its “complacency with sexual abusers.”

Polanski, who was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, remains wanted in the United States decades after he fled before his conviction.

“We have a way of idealizing and protecting authors and putting them on such a pedestal that they become untouchable,” Godrèche says of the French attitude toward cinema. “Defining a filmmaker as an author allows him to identify himself as a genius, and to be above the laws and norms.”

The French film industry has also been rocked by multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against the famous Gérard Depardieu. The 75-year-old actor is due to go on trial in October for the alleged 2021 sexual assaults of two women on the set of a film. Depardieu denied it.

When asked what needs to change, Godrèche struggles to define the scale of a problem that she believes is embedded in the fabric of French cinema.

“In France, there are so many things to do,” she says. “I’m not the first and I hope I’m not the last.”

By making “Me Too,” Godrèche hoped to change some of the dynamics she is accustomed to on film sets.

“I didn’t want to be a person in the cinema hierarchy,” she says. “It’s a bit like Cannes. When you’re on set, the hierarchy is extremely clear. It’s a kind of aristocracy.

“Me Too” is a sort of choral expression of the multi-step process of going public with an experience of sexual abuse. And in many ways it traces Godrèche’s own experience.

“I tried to understand what happened to me. It’s a strange journey. I believe that I have been, in many ways, my entire life as an actress, a muse. I was silenced in many ways,” she says. “I never allowed myself to completely accept the fact that I had the right to create my world, to write my own films.”

When asked if she is happy to have come forward, Godrèche sighs: “Oh, so happy. »

“That doesn’t mean I’m relieved. That doesn’t mean I’m happy or that I’m not completely terrified some days and extremely overwhelmed by the power of the backlash,” adds Godrèche. “But I’m absolutely glad I did it because I believe there are millions of people who want their own child or the young woman they were to be able to find some kind of justice.”

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AP reporter Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.

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