Subtlety, and its sibling nuance, have become victims of the times we live in. In increasingly polarised discourses, entrenched positions and rhetorical force leave little room for those who hold on to contradictions. Veteran French actor Catherine Deneuve, however, has managed to be both contrarian and supportive, conservative and liberal, when it comes to the #MeToo campaign and its French equivalent, #BalanceTonPorc (call out your pig).
After scores of women around the world used #MeToo to share experiences of harassment and assault, Deneuve signed a letter, along with 100 other French artists, questioning the movement and insisting that men were being lynched by the media for “flirting insistently or clumsily”. The letter went so far as to say that the movement was creating a “totalitarian environment”.
Understandably, there was a considerable backlash, particularly from survivors of sexual assault. On the other hand, some welcomed Deneuve’s stand as articulating their own reservations about a movement that publicly shamed people before they were proved guilty. This week, Deneuve managed to placate both her detractors and supporters: She apologised to women who suffered from assault, but stood by the larger point made in the letter.
On the face of it, it may seem the French silver screen legend, muse to both Francois Truffaut and Luis Bunuel, is trying to eat her cake and have it too. After all, how can one support assault survivors and condemn the movement through which they have found utterance? The question, however, is based on a false premise — that people, especially the French, must be consistent. Rene Descartes used a dubious argument to claim to “doubt everything”.
Jacques Derrida, famous philosopher and post-modernist favourite, claimed never to make a statement — always writing “under eraser” — in volume upon volume of dense prose. Deneuve herself has played characters real and not, in films supremely surreal. In a world of competing certainties, of Trumps and tyrants, the ability to be both right and wrong certainly stands out.