French helmer denies he plagiarized scripts

Besson accused in magazine, lawsuits

PARIS — French director Luc Besson has categorically denied accusations that he is guilty of persistent plagiarism.

The 40-year-old helmer, who has had box office hits with the likes of “The Big Blue” and “The Fifth Element,” was the subject of a cover story in the popular magazine l’Evenement de Jeudi last week, in which he was accused of repeatedly borrowing other people’s ideas for his films.

Besson’s last pic, the English-lingo “The Messenger: Joan of Arc,” is the subject of a lawsuit, set to be tried Aug. 16 in L.A. Superior Court. In the early 1990s, Besson was involved in a Joan of Arc project written and set to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow. The two parted company, and Besson went on to helm his own version of the story.

From the sanctuary of his Normandy chateau complex, where Besson is gradually establishing a complete studio facility, the director told the daily newspaper Liberation that Bigelow is seeking damages for not directing a film that she developed.

Besson insisted that Bigelow’s lawyer, Gregory Dovel, had read the script for “The Messenger: Joan of Arc” and was not going for a plagiarism case.

But in Los Angeles Monday, Dovel said that while he is not literally charging copyright infringement, “Besson took concepts, ideas, narrative inventions and a general approach and a blueprint for making a film about Joan of Arc.” In addition, Dovel said, Besson “relied upon our years of research, our investigation of the methods to bring a film set in this era to a screen before a contemporary audience.”

In her suit Bigelow alleges fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.

Besson is also facing a challenge over the paternity of “Taxi,” a 1998 French box office smash, which he produced. “Taxi 2” is set for release at the end of March. A police inspector and the head of a security agency are claiming that “Taxi” was largely inspired by their script “Faux Depart.”

The duo registered their script in 1994. “The only problem is that the script they are talking about was registered in 1994 and mine was registered in 1988,” Besson told Liberation.