French film director Luc Besson faces new claims of sexual violence

By , and Geoffrey Le Guilcher
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'He hadn't even finished closing the door when he threw himself on me'

It was at this time, too, just after reports of the complaint against Besson that American actress Rose McGowan – who says Weinstein assaulted her – tweeted about the claims against the French director (see below). “I’ve been wondering how long this would take. We have heard about you, sir,” wrote McGowan.

Rose McGowan has subsequently told Mediapart: “Right after the Weinstein story came out, a French producer contacted me saying he wondered how long until Luc Besson was found out. Immediately I started hearing about Besson, but have no direct knowledge.”
The American actress said that she did not herself talk with a woman complaining about the behaviour of Luc Besson.

The Italian actress and director
Asia Argento, another woman who says she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein and who was one of the women behind the revelation of the scandal, was also contacted by Mediapart in relation to Luc Besson. “Just after the Harvey Weinstein scandal a woman wrote to me on twitter saying 'Luc Besson #Metoo,” she said. “So I followed her on Twitter. And we started to speak of what had happened.”

A few months later, and following her stinging indictment of Harvey Weinstein in a speech at Cannes, Asia Argento learnt in the press that the actress Sand Van Roy had made a formal complaint and gave her her private contact details. “She called me the next day and told her story,” the Italian actress told Mediapart. “On that day a third woman wrote to me about Luc Besson via my agent, then we spoke.” Argento said she did not know any of the women concerned but that she had a “tendency to trust” a victim of sexual abuse.

One of those women agreed to speak to Mediapart. She is an actress and lives in the United States. 'Mona', not her real name, described over the phone how she had known Luc Besson at the beginning of the 2000s – her agents organised a meeting with the celebrated director in Los Angeles. The first surprise for her was that the meeting took place in an hotel suite. During the course of Mediapart's investigation it became apparent that Luc Besson has for years used hotel rooms as a setting for professional meetings.

Rather than having the meeting in the lobby, in the lounge as one often does, the meeting was in his room, which seemed a bit strange to me … with hindsight I realise the extent to which one was normalising some behaviour which is not normal … at the time we said 'Fine, fine, ok',” says the actress, who is now in her forties.

Mona says that at the time Luc Besson was “super charming”, “nice”, “very curious”, “very respectful”, “not at all threatening, quite the contrary”. She went to Paris for a second meeting. At stake was a leading role in one of the films produced by Besson, for which she was among the favourites. She had a meeting in his office. “He hadn't even finished closing the door when he threw himself on me, to touch or kiss me,” she told Mediapart.

She said: “He threw himself on me and 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 the end the actress did not get the hoped-for role. “It's a price I've had to pay more than once in my career,” she said. “But for me the Luc Besson incident was by far the most traumatising.” She has never had any further contact with the French producer.

Mona says that this incident left her “traumatised”. She told Mediapart: “It took some time to speak about it.” She said that it was only in 2012 that she spoke about it with the man who has since become her husband – a conversation he has confirmed to Mediapart. “I told myself that I had a certain culpability, as if it was me who had done something,” Mona explained. She says she also changed her behaviour. “I became hardened to avoid any misunderstanding. For a long time I never wanted to show my sexuality or my body. I kept away from all roles that emphasised that, until I got over this trauma.”

Boss of EuropaCorp: Luc Besson. © Reuters Boss of EuropaCorp: Luc Besson. © Reuters
The Weinstein affair also helped persuade someone who used to work with Luc Besson to speak out. This woman is not an actress, but worked with the French director and producer in casting between 2000 and 2005. When The New York Times and the New Yorker published damaging accounts about the American producer, Amandine wrote on Facebook to an ex-employee of Luc Besson. The message, sent among 20 or so others at 1.14pm on October 14th 2017, and seen by Mediapart, criticised the behaviour of the boss of EuropaCorp towards women and described what had happened to her.

Having seen these messages, Mediapart was able to find and meet Amandine, who has now retired from the industry. She agreed to tell her story on the condition that she could remain anonymous to protect her family. However, she used her real name when she wrote to the public prosecutor on Friday July 6th to “relate that of which I was both a witness and a victim”.

As she pulled out some old work contracts stamped 'EuropaCorp' – the film production studios founded by Besson in 1999 - from a chest of drawers, Amandine told of the shock she felt when she learnt through the press of the first complaint made by Sand Van Roy. She immediately decided to support the actress. She told Mediapart: “I've nothing to gain in this saga but I swore I'd speak out the day a woman spoke out first.”

Amandine wrote to the prosecutor: “It seems important for me today to express myself to you […] hoping that others will also do so and that Mr Luc Besson can no longer adopt such behaviour with anyone and in particular with the very young girls with whom he is in contact.”

She told Mediapart the same story that she sent to prosecutors, who will now decide whether to speak to her in the context of the preliminary investigation they have opened after Sand Van Roy's formal complaint. It is a story of a working relationship which, according to this account, was very quickly tainted by a “very sexualised climate” and inappropriate actions that she considered to be “sexual aggression”.

Amandine worked for Luc Besson for the first time in 2000, on the Jet Li film Kiss of the Dragon. According to her, the producer “quickly” became “oppressive”. He would “come close to my back frequently when I was coaching actors and kissed me on the neck. Other times he forced me to sit on his knee. He established an ever-greater physical closeness which made me very ill at ease,” she said in the letter to the prosecutor, seen by Mediapart.

She described how one day at a rehearsal “Luc Besson again slid up behind me and openly in front of everyone grabbed me by my breasts. I then violently pushed him back with my elbows.”

At the end of 2000 Amandine was treated for depression. “I understood that I'd been the victim of permanent mental and sexual harassment,” she said in her complaint. She stopped working for Luc Besson. Four years later she met him by chance in a luxurious Parisian hotel. He suggested that she come back to work for him and she agreed. “I put it out of my mind in order to pay my rent,” she explained.

She was then hired by Dog Production, a subsidiary of EuropaCorp that specialised in producing commercials. Her job involved casting models. “Luc Besson gave me an enormous number of magazines, of cassettes of girls that he had filmed in his hotel room during his trips, books from all the model agencies... he put a Post-it note on the profiles of the girls that I or he had to meet.”

Amandine claimed that, once again, she experienced the same atmosphere at work. “Luc Besson frequently asked me, in the presence of a technician, to give him fellatio, which I refused without fail. Once he accompanied this demand with putting pressure on my head, making the gesture of pushing it towards his penis. He took me on his knee quite often [...] Each time we took the lift together he forcibly kissed me, putting his tongue in my mouth, and although I pushed him back he'd take me in his arms and touch my breasts and bottom,” she said.

Amandine also did some casting in the projection room in the basement of the former headquarters of EuropaCorp on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. In her formal complaint, she recalled one episode in 2004 that particularly marked her. “Luc Besson pressed me against the soundproof wall,” she wrote. “I realised that no one could hear me if I ended up shouting. Luc Besson rubbed himself against me, touched my breasts and put his tongue in my mouth. To get out of that situation I told him that a model was waiting at reception.”

This behaviour affected me a lot,” noted Amandine.

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All those interviewed and quoted in this report were questioned by Mediapart over recent months. Some asked for their names to be withheld in the article, explaining that they were fearful of the consequences of speaking out. A number of them have provided Mediapart with written statements, notably in case of subsequent legal action by Luc Besson. Some of those interviewed asked for the right to review the quotations published here, which Mediapart agreed to.

We met and interviewed at length Sand Van Roy, and the women given the pseudonyms of Alice and Amandine, on numerous occasions. To support their accounts, they provided Mediapart with a series of documents, email and phone exchanges. Sand Van Roy told Mediapart that the events she described to us were the same as those provided in her statements to the police investigation. She also gave Mediapart notes recorded in the form of a diary on her smartphone that began with her first encounter with Luc Besson.

We interviewed the woman presented under the pseudonym of Mona on several occasions by phone.

We were also given access to the details of the two formal complaints against Luc Besson registered by Sand Van Roy with the Paris public prosecutor’s office, and also the email sent to the prosecution services by Amandine.

Mediapart contacted Luc Besson and his lawyer Thierry Marembert by email on July 3rd requesting an interview with the film director. Luc Besson did not personally answer that request, but his lawyer refused any such interview “for the time being” while asking for the list of questions we wished to ask his client. We duly sent them on July 5th but received no answers. Instead, Thierry Marembert told Mediapart in a written response on July 8th: “The subjects you mention are the objectof an ongoing investigation”, adding: “You will therefore understand that Mr Besson is keeping his answers for the investigators for who he has put himself at their disposition in order for his innocence to be proven.”

A number of indirect, circumstantial accounts gathered by Mediapart during this investigation had already been obtained by Geoffrey Le Guilcher for his 2016 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 by Flammarion. Others emerged notably after the breaking of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and also following the formal complaint lodged by Sand Van Roy in May.

Mediapart’s research included contact with several dozen women and men who have variously had close and distant professional relations with Luc Besson. Many of those contacted declined to offer any comment.

On May 18th, actress Sand Van Roy lodged her first complaint alleging she was raped by Besson during events that she said took place at the hotel Le Bristol in central Paris. She was subsequently questioned by police investigators on May 18th and on June 19th. She lodged a second complaint against Besson on July 6th concerning other events than those she detailed in her first complaint, when she also requested to be questioned further by the police.