‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ Star Adele Haenel Accuses Director of Years of Harassment

Adele Haenel, the star of Cannes prize-winning film “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and French Oscar submission “BPM,” has alleged that director Christophe Ruggia sexually harassed her for years, starting when she was just 12 years old.

Haenel told French investigative website Mediapart that Ruggia, who directed her in the 2002 drama “The Devils” (“Les diables”), repeatedly made advances toward her, including unwanted touching and kisses, until she was 15. Haenel said she told people several years ago about the incidents, well before the rise of the #MeToo movement, but felt moved to speak out publicly now because of the documentary on Michael Jackson, “Leaving Neverland,” and news that Ruggia was prepping a new film with two protagonists with the same names as her and her co-star’s characters in “The Devils.”

Ruggia has vigorously denied the allegations, calling them defamatory. In a statement to Mediapart, he said that he and Haenel had enjoyed a “professional and affectionate” relationship that was in no way untoward. Variety has asked Ruggia’s representatives for comment.

Mediapart previously published a lengthy investigation into multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct by EuropaCorp founder Luc Besson. In its report on Haenel and Ruggia, the website said it had spoken to numerous colleagues and friends of Haenel and had access to documents that backed up her account.

Haenel, 30, has won two Cesar awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars. In Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which won the screenwriting prize at Cannes, she plays an aristocratic young woman who falls in love with the artist hired to paint her portrait.

In “The Devils,” shot when she was 12, Haenel starred as one of a pair of runaway siblings. She said that, after the film was completed and went on the festival circuit, Ruggia continued to make overtures to her until she was 15, creating an environment of “permanent sexual harassment” through unwanted touching of her torso and thighs and kisses on her neck. Haenel stopped acting during that period, until she was cast in Sciamma’s “Water Lilies” (“Naissance des pieuvres”).

Ruggia’s only directing credit after “The Devils” has been for 2011’s “In Turmoil.” He has been developing a new project with characters named Chloe and Joseph – the names of the leading characters in “The Devils.”

Bertrand Faivre, a producer on both “The Devils” and “In Turmoil” who has been working with Ruggia on the new project, said he was curtailing his involvement as a result of Mediapart’s report. Faivre told the website that Haenel had informed him of Ruggia’s alleged misconduct years ago but that he had not understood the gravity of what allegedly happened.

In the report, Haenel said she hoped her story would help bring an end to the abuse of women and children and the impunity of their assailants.

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