While the series tackles the painful subject of sexual violence through the rape of Commander Nebout, played by Jérôme Bertin, return to the conception of this strong plot with Géraldine Gendre, producer of Plus Belle la vie.
More than a year after the start of the health crisis and the interruption of filming, have you found a certain serenity in the production of Plus Belle la vie?
Géraldine Gendre, producer: Unfortunately, we get used to it! (laughs) We juggle constantly, it requires more work than before because our teams and our actors are exposed to risks, like everyone else. But you get used to everything, it’s the principle of resilience!
The series is currently addressing the theme of sexual violence, in a plot where the male character, Patrick Nebout, is raped. What motivated the choice to tackle this subject, which is still very taboo and rarely illustrated from a man’s point of view?
The idea goes back to before I arrived, our pool of authors wanted to deal with violence against men, and it started from there. Afterwards, the question was how to deal with it, and especially when we could afford to broach this type of very taboo subject, because when we do that, we do it to open a breach, to open a debate.
Several things put me on the alert: an interview with Marine Turchi who had done all the investigation around Adèle Haenel, and where she said that she received many reports of sexual violence. And she observed a new phenomenon: out of the proportion of testimonies received, there were 80% women and 20% men. Whether they were victims, witnesses or relatives of victims, it was quite new as a statistic. I thought to myself that maybe this meant that the liberation of women’s speech also allowed the liberation of men’s speech. We went from there, telling ourselves that it was time to talk about it.
Why did you choose a character like Patrick Nebout, who is a fairly virile and traditional police commander, apparently unshakable?
It was a totally liberated choice to wear the emblem of virility and physical power, because he’s a big guy, to show that it can happen to anyone. Including violence against women, you don’t have to be a small thing to be assaulted, unfortunately, it can happen to anyone. To embody it on someone who has a certain stature shows that in a situation of danger, and all the more danger of death, the constraint is stronger.
When discussing with the writing directors of the series, did you have certain apprehensions, in particular on the degree of violence to be shown on the screen, and on the moral reactions or not of the character following his rape? By choosing the path of revenge, for example …
Obviously. We took a long time to write it, because it was a very delicate subject, and we wanted to deal with it as closely as possible. Somewhere, we dissect a process of sexual assault: whether against a man or against a woman, the process of shame, of unspoken words, of self-loathing, of refusal of victim status, the idea c t is to show that without free speech, we suffer. As long as there is suffering, we cannot live, therefore we cannot get out of it on our own.
While looking for testimonies, we approached an association called Les Résilientes, which is one of the rare associations to have groups of words of single-sex male victims and groups of mixed words. Jérôme Bertin, the actor, met some victims. Certainly, few fictions have dealt with this subject, but there have been some: I am thinking of the series The Shield where there is a scene of extreme violence, and the idea with Jérôme, was not to do “in the manner of”. We wanted to stay close to reality, and these exchanges with the victims helped a lot to embody this character in this extreme situation.
Compared to the representation of violence, when you watch the sequence, you don’t see anything. What is violent is what we imagine, what we project, because we empathize with the character. It is all the power of the stage.
Freedom of speech is crucial in this theme; Do you think that by raising awareness among an audience that is not necessarily prepared for the subject, it can help shake things up and encourage potential victims to speak out?
That’s why we did it. Without this story, we wouldn’t be here discussing it together, and you wouldn’t be relaying this phenomenon. Jérôme did a lot of documentation, he’s a former journalist, and when I spoke with Philippe Vandel on Europe 1, he told me these figures: a priori, one in 25 men has been a victim of rape, as well as a child. than an adult. But one in 25 men is colossal! It is not an epiphenomenon. What we hope, dealing with this subject, is to allow victims who suffer in silence to perhaps free themselves, to tell themselves that it is not taboo and that to get better, we must speak, get help. Jérôme received testimonies from people telling him that they had been upset, brought back to things they had lived.
We receive a lot of live testimonials during our post-prime shows around strong themes; this was particularly the case during the plot on marital rape, which we dealt with a few years ago. Certain testimonies really gave us goosebumps: women told us that they did not know that they were being raped, and that they had clicked. It reminds us of our mission, and why we do this job. Of course, Plus Belle la vie is not just that, it is also entertainment, comedy, romance, thriller … But it is in our DNA to open the debate.