In July this year, Mediapart published the accounts of four women who accuse the celebrated French film director and producer Luc Besson of sexual misconduct. In this report, five other women, some speaking on the condition that their names are withheld, accuse the filmmaker of acts that, according to their different accounts, vary in gravity, but which all allege behaviour towards them which was inappropriate, similar and repetitive.
One of the five is 'Ananda' (whose real name is withheld here at her request – see 'Boîte Noire', bottom of page), a former assistant to Besson and who was employed by his production company EuropaCorp. She first spoke to Mediapart in May, when she recounted her experiences by phone, refusing to meet in person and declining to feature then in a published report. She says that she had at first “buried that very deep” in order to protect herself, and “to not blow a fuse”, but also because the incident she described had made her feel guilt “for not having left the hotel room”.
Since then, however, she has changed her mind. “When I read the accounts of other women, I saw that my story resembled theirs,” she says now. “And I recently understood, through reading an article, that in cases of aggression, the instinctive reaction was to ‘freeze’, a state of being petrified. It is a defensive reaction. It doesn’t efface everything, but it freed me.” (The article she referred to is here).
Ananda does not say she was raped, but neither does she say what happened to her was an act of mutual consent. She accuses Besson of having “manipulated the young girl that I was” and of having used a form of “blackmail” to entice her “into his bed”.
Her account bears important similarities with others given to Mediapart, and which were revealed in our first investigation into the allegations levelled against Besson, published in July. Among the four women who described their alleged experiences of inappropriate sexual behaviour by Besson was Belgian-Dutch actress Sand Van Roy, who filed two formal complaints in May and July in France against the filmmaker for rape. Another of the four was a former casting director for Besson, Amandine (whose real name is withheld at her request), who worked with him between 2002 and 2005. She wrote to the Paris public prosecution services in July, when she denounced Besson for committing “sexual assaults” upon her.
Following her complaints and the opening of a preliminary investigation, police have questioned Van Roy on two occasions, and she and Besson are now due to be cross-questioned together. Amandine, meanwhile, was questioned by police on September 13th. The investigation is ongoing, during which Besson is of course afforded the presumption of innocence.
Contacted by Mediapart on several occasions, beginning in July, both Luc Besson and his lawyer Thierry Marembert declined our requests for an interview, and neither replied to questions submitted to them. However, speaking on RTL radio on May 20th following Van Roy’s complaint for rape, Marembert said Besson “categorically denies any inappropriate and reprehensible behaviour of any kind”.
The new allegations against Besson reported here are in part lent support by a number of documents. One of the accounts concerns events said to have occurred in 2016, when the woman in question was a student at the cinema scriptwriting and directing school founded by Besson at the Cité du Cinéma filmmaking complex he created in a north Paris suburb in 2012. She also gave a statement to police in July this year.
While the gravity of the events described in their accusations vary, their accounts contain matching detail concerning a number of points. Most recount at the very least inappropriate, similar and recurrent behaviour by Besson towards notably young women who either worked, or were susceptible to work, with him.
In the backdrop to the alleged events is the significant power wielded by the French director and producer within a highly competitive professional environment, one in which the lopsided relations between directors and actors can both make and undo careers.
It was after a long period of hesitation that Besson’s former assistant Ananda agreed to meet face-to-face with Mediapart journalists and to recount in detail her alleged experiences. She did so on condition that her name was withheld, and also other details that might publicly identify her, such as certain dates, citing in particular her concern to protect her children from being exposed to the said events. She provided Mediapart with a number of documents, and also a diary relating to the period of the alleged events in which Besson is described with pseudonyms such as “Mister B.” or “Mister Big”. She said she did so because she could not “assume” the situation and also as a precaution against someone discovering the record of her relationship with the filmmaker.
Ananda told Mediapart she had sexual relations with Besson on three occasions, which she described as unwanted on her part, and also that she was subjected to inappropriate body gestures and behaviour. She said the events took place in the decade of the 2000s, which means that under France’s statute of limitations laws they could not now be considered for investigation or prosecution.
“Everything began when I sent a [mobile phone] text message to all my contacts to say ‘I’m flat broke, if someone has work or an apartment for me and my children, I’ll take it’,” she told Mediapart. She recalled that the first person to reply was Luc Besson, who she had already met. She said that the two agreed to meet when he would next return to Paris “to talk about work and my situation”.
“He suggested to me that we have tea,” she said. “During the day, the tea was cancelled to become lunch, then the lunch was cancelled to change into dinner.” In her brown leather diary the appointment was noted down as “Mister B. Meurice.”, a reference to the five-star Hôtel Meurice in central Paris where the director is a regular client. She showed Mediapart a note apparently written by Besson, on headed notepaper from the hotel, which was waiting for her when she arrived at the reception desk (see immediately below). It read: “Hi there!! Right, have yourself a peaceful Big Bath, TV Room service…A princess’s evening, in sum!! Kisses, Luc.” His signature was followed by a “heart” sign.
In French, “Kisses”, (written here in the abbreviated “Biz”), is an often-used sign-off of no particular sexual significance.
Mediapart asked graphologist Christine Jouishomme, president of the professional association of French handwriting and document experts and herself a handwriting expert for the Paris appeals court, to compare the note provided by Ananda with other documents bearing Besson’s handwriting. “It is indeed produced by the hand of Luc Besson,” she concluded. Two people very close to Besson also formally recognised the note as being that of the filmmaker’s handwriting.
Ananda said the invitation to take a bath caused her a little concern, but not the location for their meeting, which she interpreted as a move by Besson, an easily recognisable celebrity, to avoid being seen, and she concluded he wanted to have a “room-service dinner”. All the more so, she said, because his hotel quarters were in fact not a room but “a true suite with a salon area and a large table”.
“Naively, I told myself that he had perhaps taken a room for me, since he knew that I was struggling,” she added. “I never thought that I was going to be placed in the cooking pot.” She said that “obviously” she did not take a bath, and that instead she “waited, sitting on the sofa, without making a move”. When Besson arrived, “late”, he indeed ordered a “room-service dinner, served in the salon area”, she recalled, adding that during the meal together he insisted that he would find her a job so that she could “return to see my children” who were being cared for in southern France. “He said to me that I could count on him, that he would be my protector,” she said. “It had been 15 days that I was without anything anymore, no house, no job. I was haunted by the idea of retrieving as fast as possible my young children [who were] entrusted to someone, the time to reconstruct everything for them. I was in the pits. He knew it and he played upon it.”
“That is where the manipulation began,” she said. “I would only understand that later, because I was very young at the time. That is where the constraint lies.” Besson, she claimed, told her he was “not a jealous person”, and then asked her: “Will you give me a little kiss? Come and sit on my knees.” Ananda said she did so. “And I don’t know at all why I let myself be had. I was petrified, what’s more I had such a positive image of him at the time. For me, he was a kind of living god.”
She said that she can no longer remember the detail of what followed, nor the words spoken, describing the lack of recall as a “black-out”. She says she does, however, remember the next morning, when Besson arose at about 7 am, and she awoke with the impression that “something unclear had happened”.
“You feel dirty, but you are desperate and the guy makes you understand that he has a solution to all your problems,” she said, adding that Besson asked her not to leave the hotel at the same time as him and told her to present herself “at the offices of EuropaCorp”.
In Ananda’s diary, the name “EuropaCorp” is noted down on the following Monday, five days after the alleged events at the Hotel Meurice. According to her account, that was when she met the human resources director of the company and was subsequently given a contract as Besson’s “management assistant”, a document which she showed to Mediapart. “I thought that I was going to have a little job as an intern, but in fact he made me an assistant. It was afterwards that I understood why,” she said, explaining that the post allowed Besson to “always have an eye” on her.
'When I opened the door he was naked behind a towel'
In the entry in her diary against the day that followed her recruitment, she wrote, “Mister Big 00h30 Lancaster”. Ananda said that this was a meeting with Luc Besson at the five-star Lancaster hotel in central Paris, close to the Champs-Elysée avenue. She said that in order to be able to sleep, she pretended to have a “headache”, but that Besson woke her “in the middle of the night” to have sexual intercourse. She said she was “petrified”, adding: “I told myself ‘do the starfish’. You let things happen and you tell yourself it’ll pass over. I had the impression that the worse in which you find yourself, vulnerable, the more he comes down on you.”
Ananda said that after taking up her post at the headquarters of the filmmaker’s company, situated then on the upmarket rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré in central Paris, she was able to place a certain “distance” between herself and Besson, although, she claims, she was regularly touched by him on the buttocks and submitted to unwanted kisses: “He had me come to his office. I arrived with a notebook and he would say to me: ‘No, come and sit on my knees. Will you give me a little kiss?’ All the time, every day. The wandering hand under the blouse, even sometimes under the skirt, like a kid who tries to fumble you unseen.” She said she began to feel unwell, and took to drinking alcohol. “I always had a bottle of Port hidden in my bag, to keep going. And I understood that I had to get away.”
She claimed that Besson “spent his time making me understand that he knew I had a new boyfriend or that I dined with so-and-so”, adding: “Often, he would say to me ‘do we see each other tonight?’, and me each time I would dodge it, saying ‘I’m not free’, ‘I’m seeing my children this weekend’. Thankfully he was shooting three projects at the same time, and so he was very busy.”
According to Ananda, she had unwanted sexual intercourse for a third time with Besson, noted in her diary at a date which was two months and two days after that where she had written “Lancaster”. This time, she wrote “craccrac L.”, which is French slang for having intercourse (usually “crac-crac”). She said she wrote the phrase in her diary the following morning: “Since he didn’t put on a condom, I wanted to remind myself in case.”
She said that Besson had “heavily insisted” on seeing her that night, and that she accepted because she feared suffering professionally if she again dodged the invitation. She said they met at a hotel close to the Étoile roundabout at the top of the Champs-Elysée avenue, but that she no longer remembers the name of the establishment. She did recall however that Besson had rented a “large wood-lined suite, with a four-poster bed”, and that: “When I opened the door he was waiting for me naked behind a towel. He said ‘peekaboo’ like a child and seeing him like that I said to myself, ‘shit’. On that occasion, he made me pay a bit for the fact that I was escaping him. He was not soft, not violent either. I had the impression rather of being a whore.”
Ananda said that after her trial period at Besson’s company EuropaCorp she was offered a permanent work contract, but that she turned it down. “I didn’t renew my contract, I took to my heels, even if [that meant] struggling alone, but at least free.”
She said that during her time at EuropaCorp, she spoke to several colleagues about Besson’s behaviour, two of whom confirmed this to Mediapart. One of them, Arnaud, worked five years within the company, which he has now left, and said he decided to now speak out because he regretted his inaction. “At the time, we let too many things go by,” he told Mediapart. He would talk to Ananda during breaks to smoke a cigarette, and said he remembered how she had told him that Besson “put her on his knees, that he tried endlessly to kiss her, and that she spent her time trying to avoid him”.
Arnaud said that he interpreted this as being part of “Besson’s paternalist side – he begins by helping you then he asks you for always more”. He said that at the time he observed that the filmmaker “firstly entered the physical space” of the person. “Then, he incessantly asked [Ananda] to join him at a hotel and she continuously avoided him with loads of excuses, she told me. She pretended that things were OK, but I saw that was false, that she got by as best she could.”
Another of Ananda’s former colleagues is ‘Arthur’ – whose real name is withheld on his request – who worked for EuropaCorps for seven years. He also said she confided in him when they were both employed by the company. He said he thought Besson had identified what he called “a psychological fracture” in Ananda which the filmmaker “took advantage of”.
It is not exceptional for Luc Besson to set up hotel meetings with women he is working with or intends working with. According to several accounts given to Mediapart, he often blurs from the beginning the frontier between private and professional lives, either in conversation or through the locations he chooses for meetings; numerous professional encounters, including those which are first meetings, take place in hotel rooms or suites.
Since the Harvey Weinstein erupted last year, the holding of auditions and professional meetings in hotels has been denounced as dangerous and degrading by actors’ unions and associations in France and the United States, where the Screen Actors Guild earlier this year called for an end to the practice.
If such meetings are in principle shocking, they appear all the more so when involving minors, who are necessarily more vulnerable. Mediapart has obtained a series of casting videos involving Besson in preparation for feature films and commercials. In one of them, shot in 2003, the director was alone in his hotel room with a 16-year-old model from the New York Elite Model Management agency, who he filmed while directing her in English to position herself to show her hands, her legs, and to smile. Contacted by Mediapart, she declined to be interviewed.
It was also in a hotel that the former model and actress Karine Isambert met Besson for a casting appointment. Now in her mid-40s and working as a theatre producer, Isambert accepted to be interviewed by Mediapart under her true identity in order, she said, “to warn young women” who “should not have to be submitted to this kind of behaviour”, and also because “attitudes must change”.
According to her account, she met Besson in 1995 when she was then working with one of the most prestigious model agencies, City Models, which also managed star models such as Carla Bruni and Elle Macpherson. Besson, said Isambert, became interested in her after leafing through the agency’s catalogue. “I learn that Luc Besson had for several months been trying to see me,” she told Mediapart. “He had insisted a bit with City to meet me.”
At the time her ambition was to become an actress, and she met Besson in a London hotel while she was in Britain for a shooting session. “It was with a view to major film that was going to come out – for a principal role, even the principal role – a priori The Fifth Element, even if he did not make that clear,” she recalled. “When I met him he thought I was 17, when in fact I was 22, because the agencies regularly take five years off the cards of models.”
Isambert described the meeting as “tense” and lasting “two hours”, held in a small room beside the hotel entrance hall. In fact, she said, there was no audition, and Besson showed her a photo of herself published in British magazine Clothes Show (see above) in which he commented on her juvenile appearance. “He said to me, ‘There you look very, very young, much more than in reality, you look like you’re 14-years-old, I love it’,” Isambert said.
According to her account, he then turned to an Italian magazine, where she appeared in a photo wearing a women’s suit, her dress split open to reveal a suspender belt, before he then commented that French actresses were not “sexy” and looked like “hairdressers”.
“He said to me, ‘An actress, you really need to want to fuck her’,” said Isambert. “I said to him that it’s important all the same that she knows how to act well, that she represents something. He answered, ‘Yeah, but it’s important if one desires her, otherwise there’s no interest’.”
Isambert said the filmmaker then proposed having dinner together, which she turned down telling him that she had a “possessive and jealous” boyfriend. “I told him that I thought I was having an audition,” she recounted. “I asked him if I had a text to read out.” Isambert recalled Besson as replying: “‘No, no, what pleases me, you see, are these photos, those where you look very young and those where you look very like a woman’ […] ‘it will be difficult for me to give you a role if we don’t dine together because I need a bit to get acquainted, to be, at the limit, a little in love with you’.” She said she then attempted to turn the conversation around. “I showed him that I didn’t agree at all with him, I thought naively that my personality interested him.”
She said the meeting ended with Besson telling her that they would see each other again, and that he “grabbed me by the top of my buttocks to push me quite strongly against him, giving me an air kiss”.
“I was afraid that he would kiss me and so I recoiled, and I almost gave him a slap,” she added, miming her gesture during the interview with a raised hand. “He looked at me nastily, with contempt. It was a crime of lèse-majesté.”
Isambert said she downed “a bottle of wine” later that night. “I was six feet under, I was disgusted, outraged, disappointed, because I had hoped to meet an intelligent, cultivated, respectable guy,” she recounted. “It was a shock, because this appointment was an opportunity, a dream. I had hoped to work in something other than modelling, and in fact I had entered a modelling that was worse.” She said she feared her refusal to comply with Besson would cause her “professional harm”. She never heard again from Besson and gave up her ambitions in cinema, turning to the theatre instead.
A friend of Isambert’s, Aurélien, an actor to whom she recounted the events in 2009, said it is “completely obvious” that her meeting with Besson affected her future career. “She had a door that was directly open towards cinema which closed because she said ‘no’ to this powerful man,” he commented. Another friend, Marie, said she remembered when Luc Besson’s name came up in conversation between them that “something had happened” between the director and Isambert. “She had a very angry reaction, she told me that this was someone who was not at all commendable,” recalled Marie, to who Isambert finally detailed her story several years later.
'Sometimes I arrived with fear in my stomach'
One of the issues that runs through Karine Isambert’s account of Luc Besson’s behaviour, and which is recurrent in others given to Mediapart, is the prevalent imbalance of power in relations between one of French and European cinema’s most powerful figures and those who are young and hopeful of starting out on a career in the film business.
That is also highlighted in the story of another person who says she was a victim of the filmmaker’s unwanted attentions. Emmanuelle (whose real name is withheld at her request), who began working at EuropaCorp as an intern in the early 2000s, has previously spoken in part about her experiences in an interview with French weekly L’Obs. She told Mediapart that she became concerned to avoid finding herself “alone in a room with him”, referring to Luc Besson. “He would come around for his morning hug, always asking for ‘a little kiss’,” she said. “You are 22-years-old, you give him a peck on the cheek, he takes the opportunity to pass his hand under my T-shirt, on my tummy. I found that a bit weighing, and I always put myself in this position,” she said, placing her arms crossed over her chest.
After her internship, Emmanuelle was given a permanent job at EuropaCorp, where she said she sidestepped an invitation by Besson to have lunch together. She recalled how on one occasion she emerged from the office kitchen “with a cup of tea and photocopies – and so my hands full” when, she said, Besson arrived and kissed her “on the lips” and taunted her in a childish manner that she could do nothing about it. “And I did nothing,” she said. “I should have thrown my cup of tea over him. And after that you come back to your office like an idiot, humiliated.”
Arthur, the former EuropaCorp employee cited earlier in this report, told Mediapart he remembered how Emmanuelle had that day arrived in his office in tears. “She had just been kissed against her will by Besson,” he said. Emmanuelle had also recounted the alleged incident to another person, Coralie (real name withheld), who had worked with Besson. Coralie said she told her of the forced kiss during the period when the Harvey Weinstein scandal was erupting: “She told me about all that saying, ‘It’s now that we should talk about Luc Besson’,” Coralie told Mediapart.
The allegations concerning Besson’s behaviour have also raised concerns at the cinema scriptwriting and directing school founded by him at the Cité du Cinéma film industry complex he created in a north Paris suburb. The Cité du Cinéma project, led by Besson, was planned to be a competitor to major European cinema studio centres such as Pinewood in Britain. A number of students at the higher education school he opened in the Cité in 2012, called the École de la Cité, set up a dedicated email account this year for those who had complaints about the producer-director’s behaviour. Their move followed the formal complaint for rape levelled against the filmmaker by actress Sand Van Roy in May. The email account is called “metooedlc”, after “MeToo École de la Cité”.
After Besson’s former casting director Amandine (see page 1) wrote to the Paris public prosecution services in July to formally complain of being sexually assaulted by him, police also questioned, in July, another of his casting directors. The latter had appealed to past and present students of the school, as well as more generally people employed in cinema production, to come forward if they have knowledge of inappropriate behaviour by Besson.
Two former students from the École de la Cité, both in their 20s, came forward with allegations against Besson. One of them accepted to be interviewed by Mediapart, on condition her name was withheld. For the purposes of this report she is called ‘Laura’. She gave a statement to police in July this year, denouncing what she described as “sexual harassment” by Besson. She said she recognised her experience to have been similar to those recounted by others in Mediapart’s report in July, but said she has refrained from lodging a formal complaint because she is “not sure to have the necessary energy” to take part in the judicial procedures that would ensue.
Her account concerns events she said happened in 2015. She was then in her second year at the school when, she said, she became the object of Besson’s interest during workshops for the preparation of his then next film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. She said she had made efforts to “really work hard, to be super-present, professional, because we knew that if he noticed us we could eventually afterwards have a job on Valerian”. She retains a happy memory of the sessions. “Luc was very demanding, but very pedagogic, caring,” she recalled.
Six months later, Besson recruited her to work as an intern on his feature film. While all the students in her year had the possibility of a week-long internship during the filming of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Laura was chosen as the lead intern among five “referent” interns who were given a month-long presence on the filming.
Her internship on the shoot took place in January 2016. She said the events she now complains of “began after a lunch break”, when she said she was positioned in a small space behind a partition, where she had a table, a kettle, and her notebooks. Besson, she said, made a sign to her to come over to him. “He asked me how the internship was going and said to me, ‘You haven’t yet given me a kiss today?’,” she recalled. “We had never set up this rule. I gave him a kiss [on the cheeks] and he gave it back.” Laura said the same situation occurred “two or three times” again. In what is a similar account to others given by women to Mediapart, Besson then began to “make me sit on his knees”, subsequently “kissing me in a more and more affirmed manner, then after a moment in the neck”.
Laura’s account is supported by that of another person working on the shooting of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Victor (whose real name is withheld at his request) said he rapidly “felt an uneasiness” regarding what he described as the “abnormal” behaviour of the director. “Besson was extremely tactile with [Laura], a bit too much,” he told Mediapart. “I had already noticed that with certain actresses and [female] bit players. He was smarmy, making them sit on his knees, giving them hugs, but especially with her. He often asked her for hugs, as soon as she came past he opened his arms.” According to several accounts received by Mediapart, Besson did not behave in the same way with others in the production team. According to Victor, the filmmaker could show himself – and notably with male staff – to be “extremely tough, verbally violent, rather sharp, very unfriendly”.
According to Laura, there was a “change of attitude” on the part of Besson “between the moment when we were alone and the moment when people were around”, and notably on two occasions.
She said the first of these took place in the corridor of the lodges within the Cité du Cinéma. “Luc came out of his lodge with Virginie, his wife,” she recounted. “They passed in front of us, he gave a very sober greeting, in the usual manner.” She said the director then came back a few minutes later “on his own” and, from the door of his lodge, gave her a “silent sign to come over”, while hidden from the view of a nearby location manager. “I approached,” Laura said, “he gripped me in his arms, he kissed me in the neck, but in a very firm way, and at that moment I said to myself, ‘But is he going to push me into his lodge?’.” She said that after the experience she thought that she should never again find herself alone in his presence. “Sometimes I arrived in the morning with fear in my stomach, it was the thought of what could happen, and that I had no means of stopping it,” she told Mediapart.
Laura said the second occasion was on the last day of her internship, when she encountered Besson alone as she stepped out of the lift. “He placed a foot in the lift and told me to come along,” she recalled. “I said no, that I was leaving. He insisted, I didn’t dare refuse a second time, I got into the lift and over the time it descended he took me in his arms, breathed in my hair, kissed me in the neck. It made me extremely uneasy, I left distressed.”
A while after, said Laura, she met him again in a lift, when he was this time accompanied by his daughter and when, she said, he “absolutely” did not inopportune her. “He introduced his daughter, he spoke to me very normally,” she recounted. “There, no kisses, no hugs.”
'It happened before my eyes, it shocked me'
Laura said she saw Luc Besson again on a few occasions, in the corridors of the Cité du Cinéma, but never alone with him. She said he continued to maintain a relationship that suggested to her she was a “privileged” acquaintance. “Sometimes he held my hand a bit at length, which he didn’t do with others,” she said. “He spoke to me as with a young girl, with a little voice, and as a result I heard myself answering with a child’s voice, which I found completely stupid.” The attitude of the filmmaker described by her was similar to that recounted earlier this year to Mediapart by actress Sand Van Roy and her entourage.
After finishing her studies at the school, Laura spoke of Besson’s behaviour on two occasions with its then director, Laurent Jaudon. The first time she did so was in an informal manner during a private event. The second time was at the school in mid-July this year, when she announced that she had decided to give a statement to the police. That was confirmed to Mediapart by a former assistant to the school’s management, Timothée Stanculescu.
Contacted by Mediapart, both Laurent Jaudon and the school’s current vice-president Isabelle Agid declined to be interviewed. However, Jaudon did provide Mediapart with the following statement: “As everyone must have told you, including [Laura], if, in the framework of my responsibilities, I had knowledge or even conscience of inappropriate behaviour I would have taken action accordingly and in all morality. That is what I have always done in the field of my responsibilities and throughout my career.”
Another former student of the Cité du Cinéma school, 'Pauline' (whose real name is withheld at her request), told Mediapart of two occasions involving Besson which left her feeling “very uneasy”, although she says she was caused no serious distress. According to her, on the sidelines of a school event, the filmmaker “sort of rubbed” himself against her in a narrow corridor. “I was eating,” she said. “He approached me abnormally, so much so that his chest touched mine, and he made a comment in reference to my physical appearance, something like ‘That needs to eat, eh?’. It was furtive, but extremely embarrassing, I didn’t know what to say. I fudged by offering him a bottle of water.”
She said that a few months later, during her internship on the shooting of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Besson placed “a hand” on her buttocks as he passed behind her while she was in conversation with another intern, then “gripped” her “by the waist” while inviting her to visit the film set. The other intern, Benjamin (not his real name), confirmed the incident to Mediapart. “It happened before my eyes,” he said. “It shocked me, Besson behaved as if he was with his girlfriend. We were both students, it was strange that he only took her.” At the time, the young man expressed his surprise with a rough joke. “I was blushing all over,” said Pauline. “I was humiliated because there was a gigantic team all around.”
Both Pauline and Laura say they did not know how to react towards the behaviour of Besson. They each say that they put it down to a sort of “paternalism”, and a “big teddy bear” attitude. “I am quite naïve, I was in denial, I said to myself, ‘He’s a father, he has daughters of our age, he couldn’t do that, he is used to working on film shoots’,” said Pauline. “One always finds a way of minimising these attitudes that are not normal. Women’s bodies are not a public space.”
Laura said she wondered how to “say no” to Besson “because of his status”, and that because “until then I hadn’t said ‘no’, I had remained quite docile because it grew very progressively, how can one say ‘no’ now?”.
Victor said that in face of his questioning about Besson’s behaviour, Laura had told him that it was “not serious”, but that she later opened up. “It is recently that she said she hadn’t dared to speak about it,” he said. “A sort of pressure was imposed by the status of Luc Besson. He took a great deal of advantage from his influence. Because it’s him, nobody said anything, but if it was someone else it would have passed off less easily.”
Benjamin, the former management assistant at the Cité du Cinéma school, said it was “almost impossible” to complain to Besson about his attitude. “He was an untouchable statue, a quite awesome figure who you can hear bellowing when he gets angry during shooting,” he said, adding that the filmmaker had an “overwhelming hierarchical status”. Benjamin said Laura “told us that it was very delicate, because she was doing an internship on his shoot, that it was Luc Besson, that he was the president of her school”.
The accounts given by Karine Isambert, Emmanuelle, Laura and Pauline present significant similarities with those revealed in July by Mediapart. Then, Amandine, Besson’s former casting director, spoke of a “very sexualised climate”, a “physical proximity” that made her uneasy, a “permanent sexual and moral harassment”, but also of physical gestures and inappropriate behaviour on the part of Besson which she described as “sexual aggression”. In her letter to the Paris public prosecutor’s office in July this year, which Mediapart has seen, she spoke of “forced” kissing, in which “his tongue was in the mouth”, of petting to “breasts” and “buttocks” – notably during encounters in lifts – and that she was “forced” to sit on his knees.
Cited in that July report, ‘Alice’ (whose real name was withheld at her request), a EuropaCorp employee, told Mediapart of how hat at her workplace, and against her wishes, Luc Besson kissed her on the mouth, put his hand on her bottom and, in the lift, made a sexual proposition. “He hears when you say 'no' but it doesn't last because he will start again. Each time he tries to go to a new level,” she said. “Once he pulled me onto his knees for a cuddle. At the time I didn't really know what to do, so I gave a forced laugh and I got up,” she said. Her account was confirmed by a former colleague at the company.
Also interviewed for that report in July was ‘Mona’ (real name withheld at her request), an actress living in the United States. She described in a phone interview how she had known Luc Besson at the beginning of the 2000s when her agents organised a meeting with the celebrated filmmaker in Los Angeles. At stake was a leading role in one of the films produced by Besson. At a second meeting in Paris, she told Mediapart, Besson “hadn't even finished closing the door when he threw himself on me, to touch or kiss me […] I was against the wall so the only way to get out was to drop to the floor. And I remember that really very well because I dropped to the floor and went on all fours right up to the door so I could get up and run out.”
In an article published last month in French weekly Le Point, former French trial court judge Michèle Bernard-Requin argued that cases of sexual violence, and notably rape, are “among the most difficult to judge”. She underlined: “There are rarely witnesses. The events are most often vigorously challenged by the accused. The behaviour of the victims is often ambiguous.” As Mediapart reported in July, Luc Besson’s behaviour in a professional context is perceived differently by the many people we spoke to. While all agreed he is someone who is “tactile”, physically touching others, some found this to be “abusive” and “intrusive”, while others read this behaviour as being that of “a big kid”, of a harmless cuddly nature.
“Each one has their own experience,” said Swan Pham, a female casting director who has worked with Besson for the past 20 years and who remains close to him. “With me, in any case, he never displayed a gesture or anything else that was improper. It was always very professional.” She described Besson as someone who is “precise”, “steady”, and who “can become quickly annoyed if we are not precise ourselves”. She added: “Sometimes, he sees people one-to-one about a role, like all directors. A person needs to be wanted to appear in a film of his. Visually, he likes actresses who have an androgynous and slender side.” She said that she “sometimes had to hold back young women” who “wandered into his private office to see him”.
Contacted by Mediapart, Luc Besson declined to be interviewed, as he had also turned down requests for an interview in July. At the time, his lawyer Thierry Marembert told Mediapart: “The subjects you mention are the object of an ongoing investigation […] You will therefore understand that Mr Besson is keeping his answers for the investigators to who he has made himself available in order for his innocence to be proven.”
Since the emergence of the rape, sexual aggression and misconduct accusations against him, Besson, questioned by police for the first time on October 2nd, has remained publicly silent about the cases. His public appearances have been limited and he has ceased posting on social media. His Instagram account, on which he was previously very active, has been closed.
Contacted by Mediapart, Philippe Kempf displayed a certain irritation when asked if women were behind the creation of the support committee. He said it was set up by “several people within EuropaCorp” and that it was composed of “people who have worked with [Luc Besson] and who appreciate him”, adding: “There are lots of them, contrary to what you write everywhere.” Pressed further, he said, “That’s none of your business, carry out your investigation”.
- The original French version of this report can be found here.
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