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How Novelist Christine Angot Came to Make a Film About Her Family’s Reaction to Revelation That Her Father Repeatedly Raped Her

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In Christine Angot‘s documentary “A Family,” which premieres Sunday in the Encounters section of the Berlin Film Festival, the French novelist explores how various members of her family reacted to the revelation that she was repeatedly raped by her father from the age of 13.

The film starts with a startling confrontation between Angot and her stepmother in Strasbourg, with Angot pushing her way into her stepmother’s apartment with a camera-person and proceeding to question the woman about Angot’s late father’s crimes and the wife’s view on that.

Angot says that this incident was not planned at all. In fact, the documentary itself was not planned. It started when Angot went to Strasbourg as part of a book signing tour to support the publication of “Le Voyage dans l’Est,” which focuses on those in her inner circle who knew of the abuse and failed to intervene. She decided to invite her friend Caroline Champetier, a cinematographer, to accompany her, but without a clear idea of what would be achieved.

Angot had written about the repeated rapes committed by her father before. Her novel “Incest” was considered to be a piece of autofiction, and the novel “An Impossible Love” also dealt with an incestuous relationship, and was adapted as a film by Catherine Corsini.

However, having Champetier film the confrontation with her stepmother made a “big difference,” Angot tells Variety. For her to have that camera show exactly what was said meant that Angot did not feel alone, she says, and the camera became a kind of witness. In the film, the stepmother says the book was Angot’s “version” of events, but no one can dispute what we hear of their conversation.

“There’s no other version,” Angot says. “There can be a judgment. People can say: ‘Oh, she shouldn’t do that. How can she?’ Because they attend the scenes. So, they can have an opinion. But they see what they see. They hear what they hear. I don’t have to explain anything. I just have to be there.”

As Angot proceeded to talk to others – including her mother, her former husband and her daughter – about her experience of having been raped by her father, she is “questioning” the status of a family in society, she says. Her intention was to say to her stepmother: “Let’s just talk together. One day we will all be dead. If there is something to say – and there is – it is now. You are the mother of my brother and sister. This problem of incest is not my problem, it is a problem you have too. That your son and daughter also have. It is not a problem for one person, it is a social problem.”

There is also an examination of the role of a father in the film. At one point someone comments that Angot was raped by a man, and she corrects them to say, “Not a man, my father.” It is not just that a father should be someone who protects the child and who should be trusted, she says. “If the person who rapes you is your father, it means that he doesn’t recognize you as his daughter, someone who should benefit from the taboo, from the interdiction that incest is forbidden. It is a protection for children that it is forbidden. He doesn’t respect this prohibition. So, it is a denial of his paternity to you. So, it is not only: ‘Oh I am being raped.’ It is that, but not only. It is: ‘I am not recognized as a human and social being in a society.’”

She says the reason her stepmother does not want to acknowledge what has happened, and “renounce” her husband is because she would jeopardize her respectability, and her standing in society. “What is the most important thing is not truth, what happened, a crime. The most important thing is keeping the respectability which they inherited from the strong member of the family, which was that man, her husband.”

Even though there were others who did not step forward to protect Angot, she acknowledges that each was held back in some way. “Everyone has their own story,” she says.

Angot does not agree with her stepmother’s view that she had exhibited aggressiveness when seeking to push her way into the apartment. “It is just a door which has always been closed, which began to open and which will be closed again for dozens of years, until we are all dead,” Angot says.

“What is this door? It is the door of the apartment – the place where talking is possible for just a few minutes. A door behind which the rapes, the incest has been committed. How can I let this door be closed again? It is too important.”