An Influential French Director Is Accused of Sexual Abuse. The Reaction Has Been Muted.

The actress Sand Van Roy has accused the influential French film director Luc Besson of rape.

PARIS — In the French filmmaker Luc Besson’s thrillers and science-fiction movies, the women are serious, smart and strong, occasionally stronger than men. Sometimes, they even save the world.

But recent allegations of sexual abuse against Mr. Besson put his regard for his actresses in a different light. One of the women, Sand Van Roy, has told the Paris police that Mr. Besson raped her more than once and even injured her “to the point of bleeding.”

During one unwanted visit to her apartment in April, she told the police, she showed Mr. Besson a toy pig that she called “Weinstein” and then said, “I will call him ‘Luc.’”

She told Mr. Besson that she did not want to have sex with him. But he pushed her down, reached under her skirt and then forced himself on her, she told the police. “Luc wouldn’t stop,” she said.

Mr. Besson’s lawyer, Thierry Marembert, declined to comment on the accusations, which began becoming public in May. But he said that Mr. Besson, who has not been charged, had been “extremely surprised” when he learned about them. “Luc Besson will keep his explanations for the police, and he is confident that he will be able to prove his innocence,” Mr. Marembert said.

Mr. Besson, 59, is the first prominent film figure in France to face accusations in the #MeToo era, and in a country where cinema is central to the nation’s identity, he is considered as important a figure as Harvey Weinstein once was in American film.

But that is where the comparisons end.

Allegations about Mr. Weinstein’s abusive conduct sparked an entire movement that has brought down many men and began changing the way women are treated in Hollywood. But in France, few celebrities have spoken up in support of Ms. Van Roy, and the initial reports about Mr. Besson have not led to a similar housecleaning in the entertainment industry.

Though the French star Isabelle Adjani has denounced a film culture that masks sexual predation with “gallantry, suggestive behavior and crudeness,” several forces have kept #MeToo and its French counterpart, #BalanceTonPorc, or “Expose Your Pig,” from having the same impact in France that it has had in the United States.

In France, if an accused man is not convicted of a crime, it is relatively easy for him to sue his accuser for defamation.

“The woman has everything to lose by speaking out,” said Sandrine Rousseau, a former spokeswoman for the Green Party who in 2016 accused a member of Parliament of kissing and touching her against her will five years earlier. The authorities said the allegation was too old to prosecute under the law, and now the man she accused is suing her. “People want to see justice, but they don’t want to name names,” Ms. Rousseau said.

Other reasons are cultural. The French have a longstanding belief that their approach to sexuality is different from that of Americans, which they view as rigid and puritan in its effort to draw hard lines between approved and disapproved behavior.

The French pride themselves on appreciating the art of seduction and flirtation in a way that Americans do not. And resistance to political correctness is held in high regard not only on the intellectual French right, but also among some on the left.

Credit...Matthias Nareyek/Getty Images for Kering

An open letter signed by more than 100 women in January, including Catherine Deneuve, France’s grande dame of cinema, rebuked the #MeToo movement, claiming it was unfairly punishing men in the workplace when they “try to steal a kiss, talk about ‘intimate’ things during a work meal, or send sexually charged messages to women who did not return their interest.”

Ms. Deneuve apologized to victims of sexual violence who were upset by the letter. In more moderate comments in Harper’s Bazaar this month, she said: “Desire is at the heart of many creative professions, like film, music and fashion photography. The challenge is to know the limit and to understand the difference between flirting and going too far.”

But those blurred lines can also leave women uncertain of how much to tolerate, simply because it is part of the culture.

Eventually, Ms. Van Roy said in an interview with The New York Times, the price of feeling forced to have sex with Mr. Besson in return for parts in his films became too high. So she went to the police.

An official at the Paris prosecutor’s office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with official policy, said that the police were still investigating the accusations.

Ms. Van Roy’s complaint to the police was the subject of an extensive article this month in the French investigative news website Mediapart, which also described allegations from three other women against Mr. Besson. Unlike in Mr. Weinstein’s situation, those women have not agreed to have their names published. (Mr. Weinstein, who has been charged in New York City with sexually assaulting three women, has denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex.)

One of the unnamed women in the Mediapart article, a former casting director, who has left the profession, also has spoken to the French police about her encounters with Mr. Besson, which took place more than 10 years ago, according to her lawyer, Valence Borgia.

Mr. Besson’s lawyer told the French radio station RMC that the filmmaker knew Ms. Van Roy “as he knew nearly the whole world in the milieu of cinema” and that Mr. Besson “had never raped either her or anyone else.”

Mr. Besson, who is one of France’s most influential producers and directors, has helped shape the careers of many young actresses, including Natalie Portman and Marion Cotillard. Mr. Besson also gave starring roles to models who wanted to become actresses, such as Milla Jovovich, whom he later married and divorced, and Cara Delevingne, who appeared in one of Mr. Besson’s latest films, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” in 2017.

Ms. Van Roy, 30, who is half Dutch and half Belgian, started her career as a model and then became a stand-up comedian before turning to film acting, which had been a lifelong dream.

In her interview with The Times, Ms. Van Roy said she first met Mr. Besson when she tried out for a part in “Valerian” in 2015. She got the role and the two became acquainted with each other over meetings for tea at Fouquet’s, a see-and-be-seen restaurant on the Champs-Élysées.

It was during the shooting of “Valerian” that Mr. Besson began approaching her sexually, she said. Although Ms. Van Roy said she was reluctant, she also did not completely shun him for fear that it would be the end of her movie career.

But their sexual contact became rougher, she told the police, sometimes causing bleeding. In at least one instance, he refused her request to use protection, and on two occasions he began having sex with her while she was asleep, stopping when she woke up and pulled herself away, according to her account to the police.

On April 10 of this year, he stopped by her apartment though she had been avoiding him for several weeks. “I was stressed in his presence,” she told the police. She showed him the toy pig aware that it might irritate him, but not expecting that he would rape her, she said.

When she was at the Cannes Film Festival in May, she told The Times, Mr. Besson ordered her to return to Paris for a working session on the film “Anna,” which is due for release next year. He asked her to come late on the night of May 17 to the luxurious Bristol Hotel, where Mr. Besson, who lives in Los Angeles, often stays during his frequent trips to Paris.

It was around 1 a.m. when she sat down on a couch in his suite’s living room. Shortly after, she told The Times, he put his hand up her dress and penetrated her.

“I told him: ‘Stop. You are hurting me,’” she told the police, according to the report she filed. “When I said that, he said: ‘What, I didn’t hear you,’ or ‘I didn’t understand.’”

Ms. Van Roy said in the Times interview that she began crying. “I tried to fake an orgasm for him to stop,” she said. “It was very dark and I thought, ‘If I leave now, it’s the end of my career.’”

Mr. Besson was editing “Anna” at the time, and Ms. Van Roy had a modest role that could easily be cut. She said that Mr. Besson had demoted her in the credits of another film, “Taxi 5,” after she had stopped answering his calls for a while.

When their sexual encounter at the Bristol was over, she went into the bathroom. Moments later, she told the police, she felt something hit her back, then she found herself on the floor.

She is still not sure what happened, but later she realized she had a black eye from the fall. She managed to get up and leave, but when she returned home, she said in the interview with The Times: “I felt pain in my back, I felt like I had a urinary infection. When I tried to go to the bathroom, it hurt so much I felt like I was going to faint, I could not sleep.”

It was then that she called the police.

But since Ms. Van Roy began telling her story, the response from the rest of the film industry has been muted. No figures in French film have spoken up for her, and no other major film figures have been accused of sexual misconduct.

The absence of #MeToo scandals in the French film world has not gone unnoticed.

“There have been some scandals in the media world in France, but not in the world of cinema,” said Jean-Michel Frodon, who has written about French cinema for decades for various publications, including the daily Le Monde. “There is no reason to think that this world would have escaped.”

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