The French film industry is reeling after an allegation by award-winning actor Adele Haenel, who says she was sexually harassed from the ages of 12-15 by director Christophe Ruggia.
Haenel, who stars in forthcoming drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire, made the accusation in an extensive interview with French website Mediapart, and said that the Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland had encouraged her to speak out.
She claims the sexual harassment began after she was cast in Ruggia’s 2002 film The Devils.
After the allegations were made public, Ruggia issued a statement via his lawyers that he “categorically refutes” any misconduct, and claimed the pair’s relationship was “professional and affectionate”. However, he admitted to “errors” in his conduct towards Haenel.
“I did not see that my adulation for her, and the hopes that I placed in her, might – given her young age – come across at times as irksome. If this is what happened... I ask for her pardon,” he said.
“My social exclusion is now underway, and there is nothing I can do to escape it.”
The six-month investigation included interviews with more than 30 people connected to Haenel and Ruggia, and also obtained love letters sent to Haenel by Ruggia.
Ruggia has since been dismissed from the Society of French Film Directors, for which Ruggia had served several terms as co-president.
A number of French film stars have also spoken out in support of Haenel, including Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard.
“Adele, your courage is a gift of incomparable generosity.... You are breaking such a heavy silence,” Cotillard wrote in a post on Instagram.
Veronique Le Bris, who runs a website on women in film, said she believed Haenel’s accusation was a “turning point” for the film industry.
“It is the first time an internationally recognised actress, who is so highly esteemed, has opened up on the issue,” she said.
Haenel has refused to file a formal complaint, saying she does not trust the French judicial system. However, on the basis of her testimony, an investigation has been opened into “sexual aggression on a minor carried out by someone in authority”.