Rock star may face charge over death of actress

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A leading French rock star may face a murder charge after his girlfriend, the actress Marie Trintignant, died yesterday from head injuries inflicted when he allegedly struck her during a quarrel this week.

Bertrand Cantat, the lead singer of the rock group Noir Desir, is under arrest in a prison hospital in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where the row took place in a hotel room last Sunday. Lithuanian police said M. Cantat, aged 39, had consumed a "dangerously high" level of alcohol before the quarrel broke out.

M. Cantat has reportedly admitted striking Mme Trintignant, 41, the daughter of the French movie star Jean-Louis Trintignant, but he told police that she had injured her head when she fell awkwardly. A lawyer representing Mme Trintignant's family said her severe injuries were "not compatible" with a fall.

Lithuanian legal sources said yesterday that M. Cantat would probably face an accusation of unpremeditated murder in Vilnius.

She had been in a coma since two emergency operations on Sunday and was pronounced brain dead two days ago. She died in a clinic near Paris yesterday after being flown home in a private jet at the insistence of her family, who wanted her to die on French soil.

Her death - and its circumstances - have shocked the country. President Jacques Chirac said: "She served her art with beauty, sensitivity and intelligence, touching the hearts of the public through cinema and television alike." He said: "We are all dreadfully aware of the injustice of a destiny so brutally shattered."

Mme Trintignant's family has filed a complaint against M. Cantat in a Paris court for premeditated grievous bodily harm and failure to help a person at risk.

The French Justice Ministry said that it hoped to bring charges against M. Cantat. The ministry said it would try to persuade the Lithuanian authorities to report their findings formally to Paris, which would allow legal proceedings to take place in France.

Her mother has directed a large number of films and was in Lithuania with her daughter to film her in the title role of a movie about the feminist French author Colette.

Mme Trintignant, who had four children, was part of one of France's best known movie families. She acted in 40 films, starting in 1967 at the age of four, appearing alongside her father in a film directed by her mother, Nadine Trintignant.

She was well known in France - though less so abroad - for taking a series of roles as independent-minded but vulnerable women. Her father became internationally known for his role in the 1966 film, A man and a woman.

Mme Trintignant's most successful recent role was as a middle-class alcoholic in Betty, which was directed by Claude Chabrol in 1992.