Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski has threatened legal action over claims by a former actor that he raped her in the 1970s.
The 86-year-old film-maker denied the allegation, but pressure is mounting on Polanski, who fled to France in 1978 after admitting to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles.
Jean Dujardin, the star of Polanski’s latest film, which comes out in France on Wednesday, abruptly cancelled a prime-time interview on the TF1 television station, which was set for Sunday.
And the French artists’ guild ARP could meet soon to discuss his exclusion, its vice president told the Parisien newspaper.
An ARP spokesman later told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that although no board meeting had yet been organised, “if we are going to decide on Roman Polanski’s membership, we will do so with the approval of film-makers”.
Valentine Monnier, a photographer and former actress, has accused Polanski, who is French-Polish, of an “extremely violent” assault and rape at his chalet in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad in 1975, when she was 18.
Monnier claimed he tried to make her swallow a pill during the attack, and later made a tearful apology while demanding a promise that she never tell anyone.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said in an open letter published by Le Parisien, which also interviewed her.
“Mr Polanski disputes in the strongest terms this rape accusation,” his lawyer Hervé Temime told AFP in a statement.
“We are working on the legal action to bring against this publication,” he added.
Polanski and his new film, An Officer and a Spy, had already courted controversy in September when it was included in the Venice film festival, where it won the grand jury prize.
Monnier, who acted in films in the 1980s, said the release of the film, about one of the most notorious errors of justice in French history, the Dreyfus affair, had prompted her to speak out.
“How could he benefit from public funds to instrumentalise history, and in doing so rewrite his own to cover up his criminal past?” she wrote, referring to French subsidies for film productions.
“He pummelled me until I gave in and then raped me, making me do all sorts of things,” she added.
She had previously written to France’s first lady Brigitte Macron, who forwarded two letters to France’s equality minister Marlène Schiappa, who has pushed for new measures to combat sexual abuse.
Schiappa wrote to Monnier in March last year and hailed her courage “in daring to break the silence”, but stressed that the allegations had to be dealt with by the judicial system.
But her account may prove a turning point for French cinema, where the #MeToo movement that roiled Hollywood has not prompted as deep a reckoning of alleged abuses in the industry.
Monnier is the first Frenchwoman to accuse Polanski of rape. Since he was arrested in California in 1977 on charges of drugging and raping Samantha Gailey, now known as Samantha Geimer, five other women including Monnier have come forward to allege that he either raped or sexually assaulted them.
Polanski has denied all of the claims, but in 2017 he left his post as president of the Cèsars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, and the following year he was expelled from the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Alain Terzian, president of France’s APC film promotion association, which oversees the Cèsars, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Both France and Poland have refused to extradite Polanski to the US, where California prosecutors are pressing their case even after Polanski paid Geimer $225,000 in an out-of-court settlement in 1994.
On Twitter, Geimer criticised Monnier for not speaking sooner, writing on Saturday:
“Taking heat for not being more supportive of accusers who use film release dates to schedule their revelations with the press & sat silently while I was called a liar & a gold digging whore in 1977 knowing they may have prevented it, if they had the truth & my mom’s courage.”