French-Italian actress Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi has denounced media reports revealing that actor Sofiane Bennacer is under investigation following allegations of rape and violence, saying he is the victim of a “media lynching”.
Bennacer starred in Bruni-Tedeschi’s Cannes 2022 Palme d’Or contender Forever Young, a semi-autobiographical drama inspired by her experiences as a student at the Les Amandiers theatre school in Nanterre in the 1980s.
French media reported earlier this week that Bennacer had been placed under judicial control in October.
The measure prevents him from entering the Paris region as well as contacting accusers and witnesses in the affair. Bruni-Tedeschi has been named as one of the witnesses.
The news broke just days after Bennacer was announced on November 16 as being among the 32 young actors selected for the 2023 edition of France’s César Academy Revelations talent showcase.
The body announced on Tuesday it had removed him from the list following the news and was reappraising its rules around how to deal with candidates undergoing a judicial procedure. The body currently does not have a protocol.
Bennacer has publicly denied the accusations, saying he is rather the victim of harassment by a former girlfriend, who has bullied other women into testifying against him too.
Daily newspaper Libération published an in-depth, two-page investigative report on Friday, quoting a number of anonymized sources who said rumors of the accusations against Bennacer had been rife as the shoot of Forever Young began in early 2021.
One crew member said there had been unease about Bennacer’s presence on set, but an air of omerta had reigned throughout the shoot, with Bruni-Tedeschi standing by Bennacer on the principle that every person accused of a crime should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Libération also revealed that one of the film’s locations had been daubed with graffiti denouncing the production as an “accomplice” protecting a “wolf in the sheep’s enclosure” on the eve of the shoot.
Bruni-Tedeschi put out a statement denouncing the article on Friday, saying: “At this time, everyone knows that he has not been tried, and such a process is, in my opinion, a pure media lynching, and very far from a desire to inform objectively and impartially.”
Bruni-Tedeschi said that the film’s producers Alexandra Henochsberg and Patrick Sobelman had “expressed fears and reluctance” about retaining Bennacer in the cast when the rumors surfaced, but she had insisted on standing by the actor.
“I told them that these rumors did not stop me and that I could not consider making the film without him,” she said, adding that she had been “artistically impressed by Sofiane Bennacer from the first second of the casting”.
The actress and director said she was indignant that a newspaper such as Libération could “trample on the presumption of innocence to such an extent”.
Bruni-Tedeschi’s sister, model and singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy also joined the protest.
She posted a message on her Instagram account, voicing her support for her sister and also denouncing Liberation for its report into the allegations against Bennacer when he has yet to be tried.
“One of the foundations of our democracy is the presumption of innocence,” she wrote. “Without the presumption of innocence, all justice is random, debatable, possibly corrupt. Libé has been giving us moral lessons for 40 years, but obviously, the presumption of innocence is completely foreign to it.”