A decade ago, Zahia Dehar, a French-Algerian teenager, woke up to find her picture on the front of France’s newspapers as the underage girl caught up in a prostitution scandal involving members of the national football squad.
She was an escort that star player Franck Ribéry was said to have solicited as a “birthday present” to himself. Aged 18 when the scandal broke – and just 17 at the time of the incident – Dehar seemed destined to be defined for life by the sordid story.
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But she refused to let it define her. For young woman, driven to thoughts of suicide, it was a question of survival. “I had the choice between killing myself or going forward. I didn’t want to kill myself,” she said afterwards.
Today, the 27-year-old model, lingerie designer and muse to the late couturier Karl Lagerfeld is celebrating her first film role and has found herself compared to a young Brigitte Bardot.
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In Une Fille Facile (An Easy Girl), released in France on Wednesday, Dehar plays the liberated Sofia, who sleeps with rich men who buy her gifts; it is set in a steamy summer in the south of France, featuring sun, sea, sand and sex, with luxury yachts and jewels thrown in. One reviewer said the film had a “classically Gallic nonchalance when it comes to sex”.
The French culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles ran a front page with the headline “Et dieu créa Zahia” (And God created Zahia), a reference to Roger Vadim’s 1956 film And God Created Woman, which launched Bardot’s career.
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“‘An easy girl’ is not pejorative: it’s a woman who submerges herself in her sexuality like a man. It’s rare to see a woman like Sofia celebrated like that,” Dehar said.
Born in Ghriss, Algeria, Dehar came to France at the age of 10 with her mother and...
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