At the height of the MeToo debate in France, publishing editor and author Vanessa Springora released a momentous book in 2020. When she was fourteen she was seduced by the pedophile writer Gabriel Matzneff.
Many years later, in Le Consentement, she describes her struggle to free herself from a prison of fear, anger and shame. It has been translated into numerous languages and was published in Germany under the title “The Consent”.
Sébastien Davis has now staged this at the Théâtre de la Ville with the film actress Ludovine Sagnier. Even today in French society there is a large reverberation room for this work. Just recently, tens of thousands of women demonstrated in Paris and other major cities against sexualised violence. They advocate changing the law. Evidence of the mobilization can be found again and again in the cityscape of Paris.
The indictment is stuck to the entrance to the Pont des Arts: “Gabriel Matzneff, the pedo-criminal serial rapist, is a free man thanks to the statute of limitations.” A few kilometers further west, the Théâtre de la Ville has moved into its temporary quarters near the Place de la Concorde and agrees with a stage solo into the indictment. Ludivine Sagnier is on stage at Espace Cardin.
She plays the “V.” – the abbreviation used by Gabriel Matzneff to anonymize Vanessa Springora in his pedophile literature. The famous man of letters had seduced the minor, exploited her need for love and recognition, and stylized the unequal relationship into a divine love.
The actress effortlessly embodies the juvenile charm of the teenager with slightly awkward gestures, describes the attraction that the fifty-year-old exerted on her, the ride in the taxi after a dinner with people from the literary scene to which her mother had taken her. The single mother, the naïve vice squad, they are all accomplices in a connection that would traumatize Vanessa Springora for a long time to come.
A church choir sounds in the background as Ludivine Sagnier describes how the cunning manipulator swears eternal loyalty to her and blames the gods for the meeting of their chosen souls. A lot is about the absolutely demonic and the narcissistic perversion of the 86-year-old today.
An open letter in 1977 advocated the release of three men accused of having sexual relations with thirteen and fourteen year olds. Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and later Minister of Culture Jack Lang were among the signatories. What Matzneff did was considered almost chic in left-wing intellectual circles at the time. The “agreement” was a social one.
What made the affair with the underage Vanessa Springora, in retrospect, understandably an intolerable abuse, was the literary exploitation that Matzneff carried out with her. Because it survives the phase of self-liberation and detachment from a relationship full of mental abuse. She herself became a fiction in the writer’s pen before her life could even take shape, sentenced to rigidity in a prison of words.
Behind a milky gauze, the actress stands like a shadow, only her hands are clearly visible, stretched out in the direction of the audience. Literature, often praised as a healing power of order, is a medium of cultural rape here.
Rarely has this been seen or heard so clearly, and one also understands that the liberation from the image of others that Vanessa Springora succeeds in in her book must attack exactly where imprisonment began: she responds to the literature of oppression with the literature of emancipation .
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