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French police question director over assault claim by top actress

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Paris (AFP)

French police on Tuesday questioned a film director accused by star actress Adele Haenel of assaulting her when she was an underage teenager, prosecutors said, in a case that has rocked the French cinema industry.

Investigators detained Christophe Ruggia on accusations of sexual assault and harassment of a minor by a person in authority, a source in the Paris prosecutor's office told AFP, confirming a report by LCI television.

Haenel, 31, lodged a formal complaint against Ruggia in November after accusing him in an interview that month of sexually harassing her when she was between the ages of 12 and 15.

She accused Ruggia, who directed her in the 2002 movie "The Devils", her first film role, of repeatedly touching and kissing her.

Ruggia, 55, was detained in the early morning at his home and then questioned by investigators at Nanterre outside Paris. Under French law such a detention for questioning can last up to 48 hours.

Haenel's accusations stunned the French film industry, which has generally been slower than Hollywood to react to the #MeToo movement that has turned the spotlight on endemic sexual abuse.

But she won support from some of the top names of French cinema including the actress Marion Cotillard, who hailed Haenel for "breaking a silence that was so heavy".

- 'Responsibility as a public personality' -

Haenel, the star of historic drama "Portrait of a Lady on Fire", was one of the art house hits of 2019, had initially said she did not intend to file a complaint because she had no faith in the justice system.

She slammed the "contempt with which the judicial system treats women".

But prosecutors opened an investigation of their own accord and Haenel eventually did file a complaint.

She spoke to investigators on November 26 and December 2, saying in a statement that she had decided to take part in the process as it was her "responsibility as a public personality, given the gravity of the facts and the consequences for everyone".

Ruggia at first fiercely denied harassing Haenel on the set of the 2002 movie before asking her to forgive him. He then said that she was targeting him because he denied her a part in another film.

Haenel said also that Ruggia's public denials had made her "determined to obtain through judicial means the status of a victim".

In another case to shake the French cultural world, the award-winning essayist Gabriel Matzneff is the subject of a rape investigation after prominent publisher Vanessa Springora published a memoir describing a sexual relationship she had with him while she was still a minor.

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