France detains two filmmakers over sexual abuse allegations

French director Benoit Jacquot looks on during a press conference for the film "Eva" presented in competition during the 68th Berlinale film festival on 17 February, 2018 in Berlin.AFP

French authorities Monday detained leading arthouse film directors Benoit Jacquot and Jacques Doillon for questioning over accusations of sexual abuse, as a renewed #MeToo reckoning rocks France's film industry.

Their interrogation over the alleged abuse, some dating back to the 1980s and all of which they deny, comes as activists say cinema has too long provided cover for abuse.

An AFP journalist saw Jacquot, 77, and Doillon, 80, arrive at a Paris police station on Monday morning accompanied by their lawyers.

Judith Godreche, a 52-year-old actor and director, earlier this year formally accused Jacquot of rape and Doillon of sexual assault when she was a minor, accusations both men deny.

She has described Jacquot as having had an unhealthy "hold" over her during a relationship with him that started when she was 14, from 1986 to 1992.

French director Jacques Doillon arrives for the screening of the film "Tout s'est Bien Passe" (Everything Went Fine) at the 74th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on 7 July, 2021.

And she has accused Doillon of groping her during an unplanned sex scene in one of his films when she was 15. Several other actors have also filed complaints against both men.

Isild Le Besco, 41, has alleged Jacquot raped her between 1998 and 2007 during a toxic relationship that started when she was 16 and he was 52.

Julia Roy, a 34-year-old actor who has appeared in several of his films, has accused him of sexual assault in "a context of violence and moral constraint which lasted several years", a source close to the case said.

Le Besco has also charged Doillon made advances during work sessions, while actor Anna Mouglalis alleged the filmmaker forcefully kissed her in 2011.

'I'm crying'

The directors' lawyers said there had been no need to detain them in order to question them, and stressed they should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Director Benoit Jacquot and actress Judith Godreche

Jacquot's lawyer, Julia Minkowski, said her client would "finally be able to express himself before the law", slamming what she called the "unacceptable excesses" of media coverage on the issue.

Doillon's attorney, Marie Dose, said no legal criteria could justify his being detained for questioning "36 years" after the incident alleged by Godreche, and he could have answered queries without being held in custody.

The prosecutor's office confirmed the two men's detention, but added that both were presumed innocent for the time being.

Sources close to the case said their interrogation could last until late Tuesday and include a confrontation with those accusing them. Godreche on Instagram said she was deeply moved.

"I'm crying," she wrote. "I don't know if I have the strength, but I will have it. I will have it... For her," she wrote, posting a picture of her teenage self next to Jacquot, 25 years her senior.

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Her lawyer, Laure Heinich, did not wish to comment. Since breaking her silence, Godreche has become a leading voice in France's #MeToo movement.

After she appealed for a cinema oversight body, parliament in May voted to create a commission to investigate sexual and gender-based violence in the film industry and other cultural sectors.

The head of France's top cinema institution, Dominique Boutonnat, stepped down on Friday after he was convicted of sexually assaulting his godson in 2020.

Boutonnat was given a three-year prison sentence, two of them suspended. He will be able to serve his one-year jail term at home wearing an electronic bracelet.

And cinema legend Gerard Depardieu, 75, is to stand trial in October for sexually assaulting two women. He also risks a second trial after he was charged in 2020 with the rape of an actor in 2018 when she was 22 and anorexic. He denies all claims.

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