Entertainment

#MeToo struggled to find traction in France. Then Judith Godrèche came forward

CANNES, France — (AP) — Before Judith Godrèche kickstarted a #MeToo wave in the French industry, she was one of the first prominent actors to go on the record against Harvey Weinstein.

Godrèche was 24 and attending the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of her film "Ridicule." Weinstein, who had just acquired the film, invited her to his Hotel du Cap suite to discuss a possible Oscar campaign. Weinstein, she recounted to The New York Times in 2017, forced himself on her and she fled.

That was 1996. Now, Godrèche is in Cannes at another pivotal juncture in the #MeToo movement. On Wednesday, months after she alleged two prominent filmmakers sexually abused her when she was a teen, Godrèche premiered her poignant short, "Moi Aussi" ("Me Too").

“It’s extremely meaningful for 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 movie sets and locations and moments in my actress life that were not OK. If I was to see the world only through this perspective anytime I’m going through something related to filmmaking, I think I’d just run away and stop.”

Instead, Godrèche has emerged as the leading figure in France’s #MeToo movement. In February, Godrèche filed official complaints against director Benoît Jacquot for “rape with constraint,” and against filmmaker Jacques Doillon for “rape with violence” during the making of 1989's “The 15 Year Old Girl.” Both men have denied the allegations.

In France, which had been resistant to the #MeToo movement, the allegations sent new shockwaves through the industry. French Culture Minister Rachida Dati criticized the country's cinema for "collectively turning a blind eye for decades" to sexual violence. At the César Awards, France's equivalent of the Oscars, Godrèche asked the audience: "Is it possible that we can look the truth in the eye?"

In the aftermath of Godrèche's strong statements, more women have come forward, and Cannes organizers are girding for more revelations during the festival.

"It's a wonderful thing that women are now speaking out," actor Léa Seydoux told reporters in Cannes on Wednesday. "Things are clearly changing and it was high time it did."

Godrèche has found herself hailed as a hero by many and criticized as a “puritan” by others.

“For me, it’s quite a bizarre time,” Godrèche says. “There’s so much hate and weird fantasies projected at me. People are looking 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 experienced sexual abuse. Within 15 days, she received some 5,000 testimonies. On March 23, about a thousand of those who wrote assembled on a boulevard in Paris.

Godrèche, 52, turned that gathering into "Moi Aussi," dedicated to "all those who one day finally have been able to tell their story" and "all those who still live in silence." It was to premiere Wednesday evening in the opening ceremony of Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Godrèche walked the festival's red carpet earlier in the day with the film's collaborators, ahead of the premiere of "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga." Together, they stood on the steps of the Palais des Festivals with hands covering their mouths.

Cannes has seen several dramatic demonstrations for women in film in recent years. In a 2018 Time's Up event, 82 women — including Cate Blanchett and Kristen Stewart — stood on the Palais steps in protest. The following year, Thierry Frémaux, Cannes artistic director, signed a gender parity pledge at a rally.

But such moments have been outliers in France. In 2018, Catherine Deneuve was a signatory on open letter published in Le Monde that argued the #MeToo movement had gone too far. In 2020, when Roman Polanski won best director at the Césars, actor Adèle Haenel — who that year said she had been sexually harassed by the French director Christophe Ruggia between the ages 12 to 15 — walked out of the ceremony. Ruggia has denied the allegation. Last year, Haenel said she was quitting the French film industry altogether over its "complacency toward sexual aggressors."

Polanski, who was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, is still wanted in the United States decades after he fled before his sentencing.

“We have a way of idealizing and protecting auteurs and putting them on such a pedestal that they become untouchable,” says Godrèche of French attitudes about cinema. “Defining a filmmaker as an author makes it possible for him to identify as a genius, and be above laws and norms.”

The French film industry has also been shaken by multiple sexual misconduct accusations against the internationally known Gérard Depardieu. The 75-year-old actor is to stand trial in October over the alleged sexual assaults in 2021 of two women on the set of a film. Depardieu has denied it.

Asked what needs to change, Godrèche struggles to define the scope of a problem she believes is stitched into the fabric of French filmmaking.

“In France, so much needs to happen," she says. “I’m not the first one and I hope I’m not the last one.”

While making “Moi Aussi,” Godrèche hoped to alter some of the dynamics she’s accustomed to on film sets.

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

“Moi Aussi” is a kind of choral expression of the multi-stage process of going public with an experience of sexual abuse. And in many ways, it charts Godrèche’s own experience.

“I’ve been trying to understand what happened to me. It’s a strange journey. I do believe that I’ve been in many ways for my entire life as an actress a muse. I’ve been reduced to silence in so many ways,” she says. “I never allowed myself to completely embrace that I was allowed to create my world, to write my own movies.”

Asked if she’s glad she came forward, Godrèche sighs, “Oh, so glad.”

“It doesn’t mean I’m relieved. It doesn’t mean I’m happy or not completely terrified some days and extremely overwhelmed by the power of the backlash,” Godrèche adds. “But I’m absolutely happy I did because I do believe there are millions of people who are wishing that their own child or the young woman that they were can find some sort of justice.”

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AP journalist Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.

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For more coverage of the Cannes Film Festival, visit https://apnews.com/hub/cannes-film-festival.

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