Teddy Lussi-Modeste, director of “No waves”: “In this story, there is not a culprit and a victim, but two victims”

French teacher in Seine-Saint-Denis, Teddy Lussi-Modeste, 46 years old, also a director ( Jimmy Rivière , in 2011 and The Price of Success , in 2017), drew inspiration from his professional experience for his third film. Pas de vaguees tells the story of a French teacher wrongly accused of sexual harassment by a schoolgirl. In the time of #metoo, the film questions the relationship that our society has with the words of victims.

Can you go back to the genesis of the film?

The film is inspired by an ordeal I had to go through a few years ago. I was then doing a six-month replacement at a college until the day I learned, to my greatest shock, that one of my students thought I was trying to seduce her. Subsequently, one of his brothers threatened me with death, another took him to the police station. The principal tells me that he cannot file a complaint for me on behalf of the establishment and the police officer who receives me tells me that I must settle for a handrail. I would later learn that neither statement was true. During the summer that followed, I started writing this story for the cinema with my co-writer Audrey Diwan [director of L’Evénement , in 2021] then, in September, I found a permanent position in another college . A few months later, once the investigation was completed, things returned to normal.

Sexual harassment is a delicate subject. Nowadays, how do you tell the story of a young girl who accuses an innocent man?

We wanted to bring complexity to all the characters. Thus, the teacher has his share of responsibility in the ordeal he is going through. By leaving the frame, he allows the incident to occur. He is an idealist, but behind idealism there is also a form of pride. Likewise, it seemed essential to us – and even moral – not to treat Leslie as a liar: the young girl really believed that her teacher wanted to seduce her. The specificity of the story is that there is not one culprit and one victim, but two victims. By being part of the movement to free the speech of teachers, the film accompanies the movement to free the speech of victims.

You have been teaching at the college since 2006. In your opinion, how can we avoid the spread of false rumors of harassment?

As the film continues to show, we need to design more effective protocols for hearing victims’ voices at school. In my opinion, we should recruit a harassment representative in each establishment, someone who is able to take care of students and teachers who are suffering. I have had to deal with problems like this without being sufficiently trained to do so. One day, a mother calls me at 7 a.m. to tell me that her daughter is in a photo on social networks with a comment that I’ll let you imagine… What should I do? I spoke to the principal education advisor who suggested the family file a complaint.

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