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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 March, 2004, 15:50 GMT
'Passionate' affair with tragic end
By Adam Easton
BBC correspondent in Vilnius

Marie Trintignant
Trintignant had been filming a series about French author Collette
France has been gripped by the love story that ended so tragically one night last summer in a Lithuanian hotel.

The lovers had been two of France's most well-known celebrities.

The 41-year-old actress, Marie Trintignant, had appeared in 40 films and plays, and was the daughter of legendary French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, who starred with Brigitte Bardot in And God Created Woman.

The man charged with her murder is her former lover, Bertrand Cantat, the 39-year-old lead singer from the best-selling rock band Noir Desir (Black Desire).

Mr Cantat, who was also famous for his outspoken comments against racism and globalisation, denies the charge.

It was standing room only in the neo-classical Vilnius courtroom as Bertrand Cantat told how he felt partially to blame for the death of his lover Marie Trintignant.

As the casually-dressed singer entered the glassed-off dock in handcuffs, a scrum of news photographers clambered over each other to point their lenses straight in his face.

That lasted for about 10 minutes.

Lithuanian interest

As the story involves two of France's most well-known celebrities, most of journalists present were French.

Most of them, including myself, had queued up three hours before the court opened at 0900 to ensure entry to the smallish court.

Bertrand Cantat at a previous court hearing
Cantat says his former girlfriend's death was a tragic accident
After only several minutes of pushing, we all managed to get in.

Judging by the local newspapers, Lithuanians seem more interested in themselves becoming the focus of so much French attention - rather than the nitty gritty of the trial details.

Perhaps they are more preoccupied with the ongoing impeachment trial of their president, Rolandas Paksas.

At the time of the alleged crime, Ms Trintignant had been in Lithuania filming a television movie about the writer Colette, directed by her mother Nadine Trintignant.

The crew had been out celebrating at a party to mark the end of the shooting.

Guests at the couple's hotel, the Domina Plaza, said they heard shouting in their room in the early hours of the next morning.

Mr Cantat has admitted slapping Ms Trintignant. A post-mortem examination showed she suffered multiple head injuries.

Her death caused national mourning in France.

'Crime of passion'

Her funeral at the renowned Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris was attended by former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and French film star Catherine Deneuve.

The case has divided France and put the issue of violence against women under the spotlight.

Record sales by Noir Desir have gone through the roof since the case hit the headlines.

Mr Cantat's supporters say it was a "crime of passion".

The French magazine Paris Match compared the couple to Romeo and Juliet.

Georges Kiejman, lawyer for the Trintignant family, has said people should remember that Romeo did not kill Juliet.

The actress' family say the crime was simply a crime and that Mr Cantat should be punished with the full force of the law.

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