Director convicted of sex charge revisits his downfall in new film

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The Independent Culture

A French film director convicted of sexual harassment of two actresses has presented his own version of events in an explicit, and occasionally surreal, movie at the Cannes film festival.

Jean-Claude Brisseau, 62, was convicted by a court in Paris last December of forcing actresses to masturbate during casting "test" shots to "satisfy his own sexual impulses". He was given a one-year, suspended jail sentence and fined €15,000 (£10,000).

In a movie shown all this week on the fringes of the Cannes festival, M. Brisseau tells the story of a director whose life and career are ruined after he asks actresses to perform erotic acts during auditions. The movie, Les Anges Exterminateurs ("Exterminating Angels"), has been well received by Cannes audiences and given cautious but mostly positive reviews in the French press. The newspaper Le Monde said that the film was "profoundly troubling" in places but was ultimately an artistic success. It said the movie began like a "re-trial", intended to clear the director's name, and ended as an "examination of conscience".

M. Brisseau is known for a series of films exploring the nature of female sexuality, which have had a modest, critical success in France. He was accused last year by two actresses of putting them under pressure to masturbate at his home and in public over a period of five years during camera tests for a movie.

When neither of them was chosen for a part in the 2002 film - Choses Secrètes or "Secret Things" - they accused him of sexual harassment. The case became a cause célèbre in the French film industry. A petition was circulated defending M. Brisseau. Another took the side of the actresses.

In his evidence to the court, the director said that he wanted to create the same "suspense" around the nature of female sexual pleasure as Alfred Hitchcock had achieved in murder mysteries. To do so, the sexual acts had to be real, and he had to make sure he had the right actresses.

In its ruling last December, a Paris court rejected charges of sexual assault and fraud but found the director guilty of harassment. The court heard that M. Brisseau had continued to demand explicit tests from one actress for a year after he had chosen another person for the role.

"The erotic tests ... were not meant only to judge the capacity of the actresses to play the role ... but also to satisfy the sexual impulses of the director," the court had said.

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