Rock star Bertrand Cantat has finished paying for the murder of his girlfriend, French actress Marie Trintignant. He battered her into a coma one night in 2003 and she died shortly afterward. The story has bitterly divided French opinion.
Bertrand Cantat was the singer and tempestuous driving force behind what was France’s most popular rock band, Noir Désir. The group – and Cantat in particular – were well known for their support of causes dear to the left-wing of French politics and Cantat was involved in several highly publicized actions in support of various minority groups and more than one scuffle with various individuals. Noir Désir became a touring legend with a fanatical following which ordered the band’s albums in advance.
All that changed for good one night in a hotel room in Vilnius in Lithuania on the night of 23 july 2003, when Cantat went to visit his girlfriend of 18 months, actress Marie Trintignant, who was in Vilnius to shoot scenes for the film she was working on.
Police investigations later revealed that, fueled by a mix of alcohol and drugs, the couple began arguing over a text message she had received from an ex-boyfriend. Things then slid out of control and Cantat battered her face using his fists and banged her head against a radiator. The inquest into her subsequent death found that emergency services were not called to the hotel for the next seven hours and when they finally arrived they found her in a deep coma in the presence of Cantat and her brother.
Trintignant was flown back to Paris where she died shortly afterward of her injuries.
Cantat was charged in Vilnius with murder and received an 8-year jail sentence. He claimed during the trial that he didn't remember anything about what had happened due to the drugs and alcohol he had taken. Transferred to a French jail in 2004, Cantat was released in 2007 for good behavior on condition that that he undergo psychological treatment. He had served half of his sentence. He was not allowed to travel without permission and even then only in France.
But his problems were not over. The actress’ family mounted a campaign against his release, calling it an insult to women’s rights, and the French press and public went on an orgy of debate as to whether he had killed her deliberately or not. Points of view varied wildly, with some calling him a monster and others pointing to Trintignant’s own erratic behavior and drug use.
Tragedy struck Cantat again in January of this year. He had got back together with his estranged wife, Krisztina Rady, and their two children when she hanged herself at the family’s home in Bordeaux. She had supported Cantat during his trial and imprisonment.
Both Cantat and Rady had received abusive phone calls and death threats and this, as well as tensions within the family, were said to be the reasons for her suicide. Cantat was in the house when she hung herself and was suspected for a time of being involved in her death, but was cleared of any implication by both a police investigation and the autopsy performed on her body. Rady had left a note saying that she wanted to end her life.
Rady’s parents have since declared that “Bertrand frightened her. She wanted to leave him but he blackmailed her, saying that if she did, something horrible would happen. Krisztina lived in a state of psychological terror. Theirs was a love story which turned into a nightmare.”
Cantat had been barred from speaking publicly about his actions in Vilnius during both his imprisonment and subsequent supervised liberation. Those conditions were lifted yesterday, as were all travel and other restrictions.
Now, seven years and two days after that tragic night in Vilnius, Cantat is a free man. But he knows that the whole country will be forever poring over his every public word, looking for clues as to what he really felt and did on the night of 23 July 2003.