Three women claim to have suffered sexual violence at the hands of Spanish filmmaker Carlos Vermut, winner of the San Sebastián Film Festival’s Golden Shell for the neo-noir movie Magical Girl (2014). A film student, an employee of one of his productions and a worker in the cultural sector have reported to EL PAÍS that the director allegedly took advantage of his prominence in the world of cinema in order to have violent sexual relations with them – relations that they didn’t consent to.
The events they describe took place between May of 2014 and February of 2022. In one of the women’s testimonies, she describes how Vermut immobilized her, choked her and forced her to have sex. She remembers showing opposition not only verbally, but also physically: she explains that she tried to get away by kicking him.
In the second story, an aspiring director recounts how the filmmaker lunged at her to kiss her and touch her breasts without her consent. She explains that he tore off her bra. And, in the third testimony, the woman who worked for him – who claims that he had promised her a better job – describes an episode in which he locked her up in his house one day, after she had been on the receiving end of months of “degrading treatment, both verbal and physical.” She describes how she was subjected to a level of violence that she didn’t consent to during the sexual relations that they maintained.
Vermut, who has been interviewed by EL PAÍS on three occasions, claims not to have been “aware of having exercised sexual violence against any woman.”
“I have always practiced rough sex in a consensual manner, because I believe that consent is very important,” he repeated, when asked by this newspaper about these testimonies. “It’s another thing if the person… if she later felt bad — and maybe, at the time, was afraid to say it — I can’t know that.”
“I would like it to be published,” he asks, “that I’ve had many relationships of many types, always wanting the other person to be ok. And I think that having had a promiscuous sexual life — and having had many different types of sex — can lead you to situations like these.”
None of the women reported what happened to the police because — according to what they say — two of them were afraid of losing their jobs, while another was afraid of not being able to get one. According to data from Spain’s Ministry of Equality, only 8% of victims of sexual violence dare to report it.
The three women who have made allegations against Vermut don’t want their names to be published, as they all work in positions related to the audiovisual sector and claim to fear retaliation. This newspaper has obtained sworn statements from these three women, in which they confirm everything that they’re denouncing.
EL PAÍS also has documentary material on which this investigation is based: e-mails, photos, WhatsApp conversations with the director and the people around him, as well as interviews with 31 workers in the film industry, none of whom wished to have their names made public. Most of them were aware of the testimonies of the women, while some provided information that served to contextualize these complaints. Among those who offered input were actresses, heads and members of technical and artistic teams, casting directors, representatives of film associations and institutions, journalists, producers and directors. EL PAÍS also obtained the testimonies of six people around Vermut.
Carlos López del Rey, better known as Carlos Vermut, the stage name he has used since his professional beginnings as an illustrator, began to make inroads in Spanish cinema with his debut film, Diamond Flash (2011). With his second feature film, Magical Girl (2014), the 43-year-old director was crowned, winning various awards in Spain. From that moment, which coincides with the first testimony of this investigation, his career took off.
In the last edition of the Goya Awards, Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars, Vermut competed for the Award for Best Director. The industry considers him to be a special director, “the only [member] of his generation who could enter the Cannes awards list,” according to a producer. And all the workers in the film sector consulted for this report agree that he has the aura of an independent, daring and authentic filmmaker.
The three women accusing him look alike physically. Two of them are younger than him: they were 21 and 26 years old at the time of the alleged assaults. They’re all small in stature and say that they felt unable to shake him off or defend themselves, for fear that something worse could happen to them.
Testimony #1. May of 2014. Madrid.
On May 8, 2014, this woman had met a friend to party with a group of people from the film industry, at a pub in Malasaña, a bohemian district of Madrid. There, according to her testimony and that of another witness, Carlos Vermut was present with other filmmakers. She remembers that he was a trending director at the time, as he had just won Best Picture at the San Sebastián Film Festival. He was about to become one of the most important auteur directors on the scene. She was working as a freelancer at the time, as this newspaper has been able to confirm. One of her clients was Vermut’s friend and a collaborator in one of the filmmaker’s future projects.
“I remember how, that night, we started fooling around. And I admit, with some shame, that I was impressed that Vermut noticed me. I admired him a lot. In short, we ended up going to my [apartment],” she says. “When we arrived at my door, he kissed me in a very beautiful and tender way. And I told him to come up,” she adds.
Once inside, she remembers what happened: “He threw himself on top of me, he started to choke me. I didn’t see him coming. I started kicking him. I was very scared. After kicking him more, I pulled away and said something like: ‘I don’t deserve this.’ I don’t know why, [maybe because] I was very confused. I even told him: ‘Okay, sorry, sorry.’ And he did the same thing again, with the same violence, I mean. I couldn’t move anymore, because he tackled me. He’s a very big guy, I didn’t have a chance to do anything,” she says. “The only thing I remember clearly is that I asked him: ‘Please put on a condom, please put on a condom,’ which he didn’t do. I remember that because, back then, I was obsessed with diseases. In the end, it was the only thing I managed to say.” Then, according to her story, he left her house. “And I was left lying there. He didn’t ask me if I was okay. Nothing. He took [what he wanted] and left.”
Vermut, questioned about the episode that this woman narrates, denies “having reached a point where a person is [physically] struggling [with him]. That’s never happened to me,” he insists. Then, he acknowledges: “I’ve choked people, yes, but consensually. I’m not denying it.” Regarding her saying that he didn’t use a condom when she asked him to, he explains: “I’ve made love without a condom. Sometimes, I haven’t used it; other times, yes. [If someone] tells me to put it on, I do. Honestly, I’m not aware of someone telling me that they didn’t want to have sex with me and [then I continued] having it,” he says.
At 3:13 a.m. on May 9, 2014, this woman wrote to a friend, according to a WhatsApp conversation to which EL PAÍS has had access. She considers it important to point out that, at the moment, she didn’t fully understand what had happened to her: “I was only able to say that something had happened that wasn’t right. And until quite some time later, I didn’t realize that it had been a sexual assault.”
Here’s a fragment of what they talked about that same day:
“I’ve hooked up with Carlos Vermut. It was fucking shit.”
“What happened? What’s wrong?”
“Uhm, let’s see, he even slapped me twice because I didn’t want to [perform oral sex]. Don’t say anything.”
“Okay. You escaped, I guess?”
“He came to my house. He wanted to force me. I got scared.”
“Obviously. Did he leave?”
“So nothing happened?”
“Yeah. But it was horrible.”
“But if you didn’t feel like it, you should have stood your ground!”
“I told you, I was scared.”
That morning, she spoke with another friend, also from the film industry. This newspaper has confirmed that this conversation indeed took place. The friend remembers seeing that she was “very nervous [about this incident] becoming known” in her circle.
The woman accusing Vermut explains that she assured her friend that she had “genital injuries.” This friend then recommended that she go to the hospital, or to the police. But she didn’t want to. “I didn’t report him because he was Carlos Vermut, a well-known person, a film director who was related to my [social] environment and my work circle,” the woman laments.
Six months later, she saw him again, for work. He was promoting his movie Magical Girl. “He acted as if nothing had happened. He was [actually] very kind,” she acknowledges. “We slept together other times, sporadically, over a year and a half. It was never like the first time, although there were always struggles and violence during sex. That’s the only way he got excited. And I, stupidly, came to believe that it was wild, that it was good,” she recalls. “Now, I don’t recognize myself in that person. I think I was denying what happened and, in some way, trying to pretend that it hadn’t happened to me.”
“I don’t remember how it ended. We just didn’t see each other anymore,” she shrugs.
Two criminal experts in gender violence – the criminal law professor María Acale and the attorney Amparo Díaz – explain this type of behavior. “To cope with the fact that they’ve lost their sense of security, many women minimize what has happened to them and try to adapt by having, for example, more sexual relations with their attackers when they’re close to them. The resource of denial is often used by victims of sexual violence to remain calm and regain a sense of security. Also, sometimes, they fear retaliation or negative consequences if they don’t normalize what has happened to them,” Díaz points out. “The violent act is independent from what she or they decide to do later,” Acale emphasizes.
EL PAÍS has confirmed that at least 17 people, including producers, actresses, directors and specialized journalists, were aware of this story. As were three members of the San Sebastián Film Festival and a member of the board of directors of the Association of Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media: it was in September of 2022 that this woman revealed to them that Vermut had forced her to have sex. According to the responses provided by the sources consulted — who didn’t want their names to appear in this investigation — some decided to wait for her to file a complaint and encouraged her to do so, while others simply didn’t believe her. And then, there are those who don’t remember the reason as to why they remained silent.
Testimony #2. May of 2016. Madrid.
This woman says that, on May 15, 2016, she received a message from Carlos Vermut, inviting her for a drink at the San Isidro festivities in Madrid. She was 21 years old (at the time, the filmmaker was 36) and she had one year left to graduate from college. She explains that he told her that he had seen how she was “very interested in cinema” and that he could help her “in whatever way she wanted” to get into the industry. She admits that it touched her that one of her favorite film directors said something like that to her. “Carlos Vermut is writing to me and he’s also telling me that he can get me a job,” she remembers thinking to herself.
The filmmaker had her phone number because, a month earlier, he had participated in some lectures on film at the university where she was studying. They went from strictly professional contact by e-mail to personal messages and phone calls.
She accepted the proposal and they went to have a few beers in the Madrid neighborhood of La Latina. Vermut later invited her to a concert with some friends — among them another well-known filmmaker and a younger woman, whom she estimates was around her age.
The night didn’t end there. The four later joined a producer — also Vermut’s friend — and two other young women at the Café Berlin in Madrid. “We sat with them. And I remember that the producer was looking at me, he asked me: ‘And what about you? What do you want to be? Screenwriter?’ I told him yes. ‘But what have you written?’ he asked. I felt like it was in a job interview. Now, I analyze it and it was like he was saying: ‘Girl, what do you want?’
That night was one of the few face-to-face meetings that this woman had with the filmmaker, according to her story. However, the late-night calls and messages multiplied. The topic they talked about the most was the script for the film Who Will Sing To You? (2018), Vermut’s third feature film. “He sent me the first and second drafts,” she says. “Honestly, I didn’t like it very much. When I gave him negative feedback on the script, he didn’t love it. He was on edge.”
He wrote to her almost daily, according to her story, until, one day, he suggested that she come over: “Why don’t you come to my house and, since you like my movies so much, we’ll watch Diamond Flash? That way, we can analyze it together.” She accepted, as she had done so many times with other classmates and professors at the university.
She remembers that she went to his house, which is located in a working-class neighborhood of Madrid. They were alone. They watched the movie and, when it was over, Vermut jumped her. According to her testimony, he kissed her and put his hand between her breasts. “I was wearing a t-shirt that had a little drawstring… I remember it because it was difficult for me to put it back on and because I was wearing a strapless bra. He put his hand between my breasts and my bra, and pulled,” she recalls. The force was so strong that it tore. “I stayed very still, I didn’t know what to do. He noticed it and said: ‘Is something wrong with you?’” She answered no, hesitantly: “It was instinctive. I stayed still.”
Vermut stood up and started shouting. “I no longer remember what he told me. He went to his room, opened his laptop, got on the bed and started chatting with another girl to meet up. I know because I went over… I got a little closer and I saw [the screen].” She told him that she was going home. And Vermut answered: “Yeah, I don’t know why you haven’t left already.”
“I’ve never ripped off anyone’s clothing to have sexual relations,” the filmmaker swears, when asked by EL PAÍS about this testimony. And he adds: “Imagine that I’ve gone to my house with a person and we’re in bed or on the sofa talking. I assume there’s a sexual intention. Maybe I’ll get close to her, touch her breasts. If the person tells me to get away from her, I won’t do anything else. It depends on the context.”
This woman remembers that she left the director’s house crying. “I walked as fast as I could to the subway. [His place] was more than an hour from my house. And I remember doing everything I could to keep my bra from falling off.”
The last time she heard from Vermut was through an email, in which the filmmaker asked her how she was doing. “[It was as] if nothing had happened,” the woman adds. She answered: “I’m fine, but I don’t want to talk to you anymore.” That’s where their relationship ended. Shortly afterwards, she realized that he had blocked her on WhatsApp.
Testimony #3. From the end of 2019 to February of 2022. Madrid.
At the end of 2019, the third woman met Carlos Vermut at an informal meal. That night, she remembers, they slept together. It was the first of a series of encounters that occurred for almost two years in which, she says, they had sexual relations “with a violence” that she claims she didn’t consent to. Shortly after meeting him, the company she worked for took charge of one of his films. She joined the team that was going to work for him. “Then, the personal relationship continued, along with the professional one,” this woman admits. She was 26 years old at the time (Vermut was 39) and had just started her professional career.
In each of their encounters they always had sexual relations which involved violent practices. “There was never a prior or subsequent conversation regarding the terms of those [interactions],” this woman explains. “I remember a situation in which he pressed my head very hard against him, to the point that I nearly retched. All of this was accompanied by degrading verbal and physical expressions that made me feel at a disadvantage and inferior,” she explains to EL PAÍS. “Maybe he didn’t really want to, but he [must have known] that was going to happen. And I was afraid not to do it. I tried to convince myself that I had to like that way of [having sex],” she continues. “On many occasions, I dissociated, or tried to redirect him so that he was tender… but I couldn’t do it.”
She remembers that she entered into a violent spiral. She didn’t know how to escape from it without being harmed. At work, she was his subordinate. He even promised her a job. And, in her personal relationship, he sometimes caused her to be fearful. “I was very careful [regarding how I] addressed him, because I didn’t want to upset him,” she remembers. Shortly after leaving him, she went to a psychologist, who diagnosed her with relationship anxiety. “When you have low self-esteem like me, you always put the needs of others before your own. If someone pays attention to you — [someone] within the world in which you work, [who] has a certain [level of] power and prestige — it’s even more important,” she says, referring to her state at the time.
In response to this story, Vermut tells EL PAÍS: “I’ve never had the need to attack anyone, nor do I get excited by that type of practice [if the] other person isn’t excited by it.” When asked if, on any occasion, he has perceived that one of his partners was scared, he denies this. “A person may feel uncomfortable… [they may] believe or remember that they were being clear in wanting to end [a relationship]. And maybe they don’t convey it in a way that the other person can understand. [I also understand] that a person… may feel afraid of aggravating the situation.”
“What do you mean by ‘aggravating the situation?’”
“I mean… imagine that you’re with a person who’s twice your size and you want to [stop]. OK. And you want to say it to make them stop, but maybe you don’t want to be so blunt that the other person [gets] more angry, you know? Or [you don’t want to say something] that’s going to make the situation worse.
Six months after they met, Vermut offered this woman a job at a production company that the filmmaker assured her he would set up. This newspaper has had access to the conversation that this woman had with a friend, in which she showed her excitement about this supposed job opportunity. The messages about the subject began on August 10, 2020, at 10:57 in the morning:
“I have a firm job offer from Carlos for the future. He’s going to open the production company and, when he starts things, he says that he wants me on his team. Vermut!.”
“We’re going to pitch it to [a streaming platform].”
However, the woman explains that this job never materialized. “Now I realize that his promises made me feel special… it was a way of keeping me there,” she laments.
The last time she saw Carlos Vermut was in February 2022. After a few beers, she recalls, they went to the filmmaker’s house. “He didn’t treat me well. When we went to his bed, he fell asleep. I felt bad… I couldn’t be there next to him,” this woman continues. She claims that she got up, got dressed and tried to escape. But when she reached the door, Vermut, by then awake, stood in front of her and didn’t let her out. She remembers that the door was bolted.
“You can’t leave me alone,” she claims the filmmaker said. “It was a very violent situation. I thought that if I refused to stay, it could lead to something worse. I was very scared. He’s much bigger [than me].” So, she went back to the room and got into bed. “A part of me was saying, ‘Go to sleep, wake up and go to work.’” The next morning, she left his house. She then received a message from Vermut, in which he ended the relationship. She remembers that he claimed that she drank a lot and that he didn’t feel comfortable with a person like that.
This woman’s current partner has assured EL PAÍS that he hasn’t met anyone “with so much fear in the bedroom.”
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