Le Mensonge, a Series Starring Daniel Auteuil on TV5

Inspired by a drama that shocked the town of Vence in the Alpes-Maritimes département, the miniseries Le Mensonge portrays the accusation of incest made by a child against his grandfather – played by Daniel Auteuil – in 2000, and the fifteen-year trial that followed. We sat down with director Vincent Garenq to discuss this legal, family saga in four episodes coming to TV5MONDE USA on April 13.
Daniel Auteuil in the miniseries Le Mensonge. © Thalie Images/France Télévision

FranceAmérique: Le Mensonge is inspired by a true story about Christian Iacono. Could you tell us about it?

Vincent Garenq: Ours is the story of a mayor in a small rural town – Christian Iacono in real life, who became Claude Arbona in our fictional tale. A man with his sights set on the Senate, who has a complicated relationship with his son. One day, out of the blue, he is arrested, having been accused of rape by his grandson. A double drama ensues: a grandfather wrongfully accused of a crime and a child who digs himself deeper into a dizzying web of lies. The entire thing lasted for fifteen years, and is still a well-known case around the French Riviera.

Even though Christian Iacono was acquitted, the experts, the father, and the judge are convinced that the young boy was sexually abused. How do you explain your position on the matter?

We show that the prosecuting attorney has an ambiguous stance. I am also wary of psychological assessments, as I have seen too many times how they can be inaccurate. For example, I worked extensively on the Outreau trial. Experts who maintain their accusations are often mistreated in these trials and are scared of contradicting themselves. I made up my mind after reading all of the case files and understanding the full context of the Iacono affair.

What drew you to this story?

Miscarriages of justice are striking from an emotional and dramatic point of view. Christian Iacono’s book moved me, and this story has what Truffaut called a “desperately happy ending.” I really liked our final episode, which was very close to reality, in which the young man helps his grandfather get out of prison.

Did you meet the family?

I had lunch with Christian Iacono and his grandson, who asked if he could work as an assistant on the series. He had always dreamed of working in cinema! I accepted, and he was able to turn this experience into something positive. He has suffered a lot throughout this drama, and seeing it portrayed encouraged him to get back on his feet and open himself up to another world. He gave me his version of the facts and granted me a lot of freedom. I was also given access to the case files. I did not personally meet the mother, but she is very pleased with the series – as is the rest of the family, in fact! When you depict family dramas and heavy, complex stories, you have to be honest with those who lived through them. I did not want to make things worse or be voyeuristic; I just tried to understand why things happened, without caricaturing or sullying, but with dignity.

You are first and foremost a movie director. How did you approach this miniseries?

I was a little apprehensive because I had never worked with this sort of format, but I really enjoyed it! It is fun to write and you can be very creative. The four episodes were screened across two evenings, which enabled us to split the storyline into two parts. The first is focused on the grandfather and the second on the grandson, with a ten-year time lapse between the two. I felt like I was directing four little movies! The other advantage of TV is that the audience numbers were there. This sort of adult-themed production would have sold 400,000 tickets at the box office, as people prefer comedies at the moment. But we managed to get five million viewers for the series. Television audiences are more curious and allow themselves to be led into difficult, sad stories.

Justice is a running theme throughout many of your films. How do you make it accessible and comprehensible?

Justice is a mirror held up to life! Everything that is talked about in judges’ offices is interesting. I make sure that everything is esthetic, well-paced, and that the audience never gets bored – even during long scenes. In Le Mensonge, the family saga and the legal saga intertwine. I wanted to portray the unbearable injustice and the harrowing experience of a child who finally finds the strength to tell the truth.

What was it like working with the actor who portrays Lucas Arbona, the grandson in the series?

He is an incredible child! We had 95 auditions, and he was the only one who did not seem to be reading from a script. The crew usually does two or three takes for each scene. But with him, we spent our time moving the cameras, as the first take was always perfect! I often said that he was the only genius on the set.

How did you convince Daniel Auteuil, who plays the grandfather, to feature in a television series?

Daniel had already acted in one of my movies, In Her Name. We had lost touch, but when I called to offer him the role, he accepted on the spot! He was a little dubious about starring in a television production but he trusted me. Today, the lines between genres are blurring, and leading movie stars now increasingly appear in series. Just like directors!

Le Mensonge
will be broadcast on TV5MONDE USA on Tuesdays, April 13 and 20, at 11:30 pm EST (8:30 pm PST).