Unsafe sex kills off romance of French cult hero

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AT THE time of his death, Cyril Collard was something of a Romantic hero who had chronicled his experience of Aids in the cinema. Now he is in the headlines again, but this time for irresponsibility and glamorising unsafe sex.

The issue flared last week after Francoise Giroud, a writer and former government minister, published a book in which she named Collard, who wrote, directed and acted in Les Nuits Fauves (Wild Nights), a film which took four awards in last year's Cesars awards, the French Oscars, as responsible for contaminating the grand-daughter of a prominent writer.

Two weeks ago, all six main French television channels joined forces for an evening on Aids. Suzanne Prou, a writer, told how Erica, her grand-daughter, had died from the virus.

Ms Giroud, minister for women in President Valery Giscard d'Estaing government in 1974, said in Diary of a Parisienne that she had learnt last November that Mrs Prou's grand-daughter was dying. The HIV virus, Mrs Prou had told her, was 'transmitted by Cyril Collard during a brief liaison'.

In Les Nuits Fauves, Collard, recounting his love life with both men and women, had sexual relations with a girlfriend without taking any precautions, although he knew he was HIV-positive. In the film, the girl had the good fortune to remain uncontaminated.

The real-life Collard died at 35, three days before the Cesars ceremony where his film took the main honours. Romaine Bohringer, who had played the girlfriend, tearfully accepted the prizes on his Collard's behalf. Collard's death reinforced what had become a cult film.

In an interview Ms Giroud said: 'This romantic halo built around Cyril Collard is dreadful, the angel of death sowing disaster in the path of love.' Collard's parents, protesting that his affair with Erica had preceded the discovery he had HIV, said they would sue for libel.

Andre Glucksmann, a philosopher who has written about Aids in France, the country with the highest number of sufferers in Europe, fuelled the controversy by saying that Collard had 'put himself forward as a man who contaminates. 'I spat my virus in her and I said nothing'.'

Dominique Jamet, who drew attention to Ms Giroud's revelation in Quotidien de Paris, said that Collard reminded him of 'the driver who crosses a village at 100 kilometres an hour without stopping at red lights and kills a pedestrian. An irresponsible criminal'.'

Claude Imbert, the editor of the weekly Le Point, said the affair showed how French public opinion could only accept absolutes and believe that someone was either all good or all bad.

L'Evenement du Jeudi, saying that Collard was 'neither an angel nor a devil', wrote that his detractors had 'forgotten that Erica and Cyril loved each other in 1984 and did not know then that they could die'.

(Photograph omitted)