Actress ‘proud’ she walked out of French Oscars over Polanski

Actress 'proud' she walked out of French Oscars over Polanski

Paris (AFP) – Actress Noemie Merlant has absolutely no regrets about walking out of the French Oscars after Roman Polanski won best director to cap what was perhaps the most bitter and fractious awards ceremony in French cinema history.

Merlant followed her “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” co-star Adele Haenel nd the acclaimed movie’s director Celine Sciamma, to the exit after Polanski won best film for “An Officer and a Spy”.

Haenel cried “Shame!” as they left, furious that the Cesars academy had honoured a man still wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, and who has since had to deny several claims of sexual assault.

Haenel — a key figure in the French #MeToo movement, who last year revealed that she had been sexually harassed by a director as a teenager — had declared that “distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims”.

“I am proud that I left with my comrades,” Merlant said of the dramatic night four months ago, which caused an earthquake in the French industry.

‘It had to happen’

“I think it is good that it caused a stir, that it started a debate.

“The world is changing, and going forward,” the actress told AFP.

“Now we are standing up and we are walking out when things have to change. It’s something I think that has to happen,” said Merlant, who made her breakthrough playing a woman radicalised by the Islamic State in the 2016 film, “Le Ciel Attendra” (Heaven Can Wait).

“Maybe five or 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have done it,” the actress admitted. But after working with “lots of female directors I began to ask myself some quite perturbing questions about women’s lives, about what they wanted to say, and their choices.”

Merlant, 31, said that while the Cesars ceremony was “extremely stormy”.

“I feel deep down that it opened up some things, both in the profession” and beyond it, even “among families and friends”.

Younger generation shocked

“It is something that people want to talk about — and even when people don’t want to talk about it, that too is interesting,” said Merlant, who was nominated for a best actress Cesar with Haenel.

“As women speak up, it allows you to ask questions about ourselves,” the actress said. “This is also why so many of this new generation of (women) are shocked” and angry about cases like Polanski’s.

Having worked with a lot of woman directors, Merlant said she has been lucky to star in so many female-driven stories.

“Up to know, I think the women that I played were not objects but the subject, and I want to keep it that way,” said the actress, the star of the new French film “Jumbo”, in which she plays a loner who forms a strange attraction to a fairground ride.

“I really love to go out of my comfort zone and to take on roles and stories that scare me, that take me somewhere else,” said Merlant told AFP in March, before the release of the film was delayed by the French lockdown.

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