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Argento sex accuser Bennett opens up on Italian TV

US actor Jimmy Bennett, who accuses Asia Argento of sexually assaulting him as a teenager, said in his first television interview since the allegation emerged that they had a "complete" sexual relationship.

Argento sex accuser Bennett opens up on Italian TV
Asia Argento speaking at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Argento, who shot into the headlines for accusing disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of rape, reportedly paid Bennett money after he said she had sex with him in a California hotel room in 2013.

The actor and rock musician was 17 years old at the time of the alleged assault. The legal age of consent in California is 18. Argento was 37. She has denied having sex with him or paying hush money.

“It all happened very fast,” Bennett told Italy's La 7 channel, accompanied by his US lawyer, Gordon Sattro.

“She started kissing me longer and longer… and it started to feel to me that it was less of just a friendly thing and more of something she was trying to push or explore,” Bennett told sceptical interviewer Massimo Gilletti.

“It turned into her placing her hands on me and following that was when she pushed me onto the bed and took my pants off,” he said.

READ ALSO: Italian actress Asia Argento denies sexual relationship with underage teen

Asked whether it was a “complete” relationship, Bennett confirmed that it was, implying they had sex, but declined to go into detail.

Bennett was seven years old when he played Argento's son in the 2004 film “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things”.

“The power that she had over the situation made me feel powerless in a way,” Bennett said.

The New York Times reported in August that Argento paid Bennett $380,000 after his lawyers launched legal action, a month after Argento's accusations against Weinstein were made public.

Argento says she only gave Bennett money to help him out during a difficult period.

READ ALSO: 

CINEMA

Women directors accuse Venice film festival of ‘toxic masculinity’

The Venice film festival was slammed for its "toxic masculinity" as it opened on Wednesday with just one female director represented.

Women directors accuse Venice film festival of 'toxic masculinity'
Venice so male: the line-up for the 2018 Venice Film Festival features only one woman director. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

With Hollywood effectively turning the festival into its launchpad for the Oscars with new films by Damien Chazelle, the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuaron and Lady Gaga's much-hyped screen debut, feminists have lashed the organisers for choosing only one film by a female director.

It is the second year in a row that Venice has featured just one film by a woman among the 21 vying for the Golden Lion top prize. 

Festival director Alberto Barbera declared that he would “rather quit” than give in to pressure for a quota for women after the Cannes, Toronto and Locarno festivals pledged themselves to gender equality.

But his stance – as Venice bids to rival Cannes as the world's most important festival – was lambasted by an alliance of European women filmmakers.

“Sorry, but we don't buy this anymore,” said the European Women's Audiovisual Network in an open letter earlier this month. “When Alberto Barbera threatens to quit, he is perpetuating the notion that selecting films by female filmmakers involves lowering standards.”

Others blamed a streak of Italian “toxic masculinity” that saw actress and #MeToo campaigner Asia Argento pilloried in her homeland for accusing Harvey Weinstein of rape. Argento has since been accused of having sex with a minor while on a film shoot.  

READ ALSO: 'That time when…': Italian women speak up about sexual harassment

Barbera initially insisted that he chose the films “on the quality and not the sex of the director”, telling reporters that “if we impose quotas, I resign”.

But on Wednesday he seemed to soften his position considerably as the head of his jury, Oscar-winning Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, threw his weight behind the 50/50 by 2020 campaign launched by women stars and directors at Cannes.

“For me the goal is clear and has to remain 50/50 by 2020,” the director told reporters in Venice. “I think 50/50 by 2019 is better. It is not a matter of establishing a quota… [but] it is extremely important to call [under-representation] out. For many decades and centuries it had not been called out.”

Official Competion jury president Guillermo Del Toro. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Campaigners say Venice may now be about to sign up to the greater equality goals in line with other festivals, with Barbera already vowing greater transparency.

He was already under pressure for including a documentary by Bruce Weber, Nice Girls Don't Stay for Breakfast, despite claims of coercive sexual behaviour by the American fashion photographer made by 15 male models. Weber denies any wrongdoing.

Barbera also faced questions over his decision to invite disgraced Hollywood director James Toback to premiere his film The Private Life of a Modern Woman at Venice last year. Toback has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by nearly 400 women, including actresses Julianne Moore, Selma Blair and Rachel McAdams.

“I'm not in a position to judge, to decide if James Toback's behaviour was good or bad,” Barbera said. “I'm not a judge. I'm not a lawyer. I'm a festival director. I knew Mr Toback and I invited him,” he said of the director, who denies the allegations.

“We will see if the courts decide if the accusations are true, and if they're true he'll go to jail.” 

Launchpad for Oscars

But even the row over women directors cannot take the shine off the way Barbera has turned around the world's oldest film festival.

A host of Oscar winners over the past five years have been premiered at Venice including Gravity, Birdman, Spotlight, La La Land and last year's best film, The Shape of Water.

Barbera has stolen some of Cannes' thunder and its stars, with his festival's timing making it a better launchpad for the American awards season.

Venice has also profited from Cannes' feud with streaming giant Netflix, scooping up all of its films which might normally have been shown at the world's biggest film festival.

READ ALSO: Venice Biennale shows the human face of architecture

Venice's staggering line-up this year includes new films by Oscar-winning Son of Saul director Hungarian Laszlo Nemes, Britain's Mike Leigh and Paul Greengrass, Chinese master Zhang Yimou, Emir Kusturica and two of France's biggest directors, Jacques Audiard and Olivier Assayas, who would usually show at Cannes.

The festival kicks off late Wednesday with First Man, with Chazelle teaming up with his La La Land star Ryan Gosling. The Canadian actor plays astronaut Neil Armstrong in the years leading up to 1969, when he became the first man to walk on the moon.

Australian Jennifer Kent is the solitary woman gunning for the Golden Lion with The Nightingale. 

The last time a woman took Venice's top prize was 43 years ago, when German director Margarethe von Trotta won with Marianne and Juliane.

For those who can't attend or get tickets for the festival, Mymovies.it and Repubblica are live streaming 16 of the films in the programme for a one-off subscription fee of €17.90 from August 30th. The films will be available for five days after the first live streaming.  

READ MORE: The most spectacular places to see outdoor cinema in Italy this summer