Last Friday evening in Paris, the 2020 César Award for Best Director was given to a rapist who assaulted a child – following this, a woman who was assaulted as a child by a film director walked out of the ceremony. The video of the event subsequently went viral over the weekend. Adèle Haenel – one of the lead actors in Portrait of a Lady on Fire – led the walk-out in protest at the prize awarded to Roman Polanski, while shouting “shame” and “bravo paedophile”.
A few pointers could be helpful in working out how this truly sick situation ever came about, and the cultural and political climate in France.In January of this year, the writer Vanessa Springora published a book, Le Consentement, in which she revealed that she was sexually assaulted at 14 by the writer Gabriel Matzneff, then aged 50. Matzneff, a writer who had published several apologias of paedophilia throughout the 1970s, was not made an outcast in French literary circles for his pronouncements – for instance, in 1977, that “the two most sensual beings I have known were a boy of 12 and a girl of 15”, or, in 1990, that he had had paid relations with boys as young as 11 in Manila.
On the contrary, Matzneff appeared on television throughout the 80s and was championed by everyone from the presenter Bernard Pivot to the writer Frédéric Beigbeder, via François Mitterrand. He was awarded the Prix Renaudot for his essays in 2013, and straight-up given an apartment in Paris by the mayor, Jacques Chirac. The common defence of Matzneff was that he was a brilliant libertine whose work provoked the bourgeoisie; his detractors were vilified by members of the literary establishment such as Philippe Sollers.