Frenchhunters locked horns with Luc Besson in court on Monday, demanding the Gallic film mogul pay €122,000 (£108,000) for damage caused by wild deer he refuses to cull in the grounds of his vast Normandy estate.
The local Orne hunting federation say they are tired of having to pay compensation to a dozen local farmers whose crops are being decimated by a deer population they say is proliferating on land belonging to the director of Leon and The Fifth Element.
Mr Besson owns a sprawling domain at La Trinité-des-Laitiers half of whose 160 hectares (395 acres) of land is forest.
The hunters complain they are unable to regulate the deer because Mr Besson is offering a safe haven to up to 100 animals who regularly raid neighbouring maize crops.
Speaking to Le Parisien, Mr Besson said: “In mid-debate over the ecology and biodiversity tragedy hitting the entire planet, Orne hunters are asking me to kill deer that pass by my home!? Should I put my children on the balcony while I’m at it? These people are on the wrong side of history.”
Under a 1968 agreement, farmers handed their Napoleonic rights to kill any animals damaging their land over to hunters, who in exchange agreed to pay for any destruction caused by big game.
But hunters are today struggling to regulate the population of deer and wild boar, whose numbers have rocketed 15-fold due to various factors. They complain they have access to less and less land and that a third of France is now closed to hunting federations.
In the court in Argentan, the hunters’ lawyer, Charles Lagier, said they had brought in bailiffs 11 times from January 2016 to 2017 alone to register damage caused by deer coming from the Besson estate, which provided “irrefutable proof of the abnormal concentration of large animals in a relatively small surface given the living space they require”.
Mr Besson had refused to come to an amicable agreement and his “inertia and culpable absence" of action had led to costs spiralling, the lawyer added.
The farmers want the director to pay for the damage plus court costs.
Mr Besson’s lawyer, Marc Descoubes, said he had no intention of paying or allowing hunting on his grounds.
“Refusing to kill an animal cannot be considered a crime,” he told the court, citing a 2015 law in France defining animals as being "sensitive beings” who must be treated with respect.
The deer were not his “property” and besides, his land accounted for just 1.4 per cent of the surrounding Saint-Evroult forest.
“To assert…that Mr Besson just by owning this insignificant plot (of land) in which he doesn’t hunt is responsible for the balance between farming, forestry and deer of the entire area is a heresy,” he said.
He called for an in-depth study of the deer population of the entire forest.
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Deer hunting is not Mr Besson’s most pressing concern at present.
He has been in talks to cede a controlling stake in EuropaCorp, his 20-year-old studio located in a northern Paris suburb, to an American investment fund after it ran up losses of €200 million in two years.
EuropaCorp previously held discussions with several high-profile companies, including Netflix, but the talks froze after Mr Besson was hit with rape allegations by the actress Sand Van Roy last year. A nine-month police investigation into Mr Besson was dismissed in February.