Five more women accuse Luc Besson of sexual misconduct

By and Geoffrey Le Guilcher
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'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.”

Karine Isambert as featured in British fashion magazine Clothes Show, in 1994. © Document Mediapart Karine Isambert as featured in British fashion magazine Clothes Show, in 1994. © Document Mediapart

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.

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This report is the latest in a lengthy investigation into the accusations targeting Luc Besson (see more here and here), during which Mediapart has met with numerous men and women who have either worked with the filmmaker or who have been acquainted with him.

All those interviewed and quoted in this report were questioned by Mediapart over recent months. Some asked for their names to be withheld, explaining that they were fearful of the consequences of speaking out or to protect the privacy of their families. Most of them have provided Mediapart with written statements, notably in case of subsequent legal action, and also documents supporting their accounts. Some of those interviewed asked for the right to review their quoted statements before publication, which Mediapart agreed to.

To comply with Ananda’s request for total anonymity, Mediapart has omitted from this report all details that might suggest her true identity, including certain names, dates, places and anecdotes. While Laura requested that her real name should be withheld here, she does of course appear under her real name in the ongoing investigation into the accusations against Luc Besson, in which she has provided a sworn statement to police. The same is also the case regarding Amandine, who wrote to the public prosecution services.  

As detailed in this report, Mediapart has contacted Luc Besson and his lawyer Thierry Marembert on several occasions, beginning in July, to request an interview, which they declined. They did not reply to written questions sent to them. The investigation is ongoing, during which Besson is of course legally afforded the presumption of innocence.   

Expert graphologist Christine Jouishomme orally reported the conclusions of her analysis of the note provided by Ananda which she said was left for her by Besson at the Hôtel Meurice.

Geoffrey Le Guilcher is the author of an unauthorised biography of Luc Besson, Luc Besson, L'homme qui voulait être aimé : La biographie non autorisée (Luc Besson, the man who wanted to be loved: the unauthorised biography), published in France in 2016 by Flammarion.