Odile Soudant’s three-year nightmare is finally over. The 49-year-old French artist has just won a lengthy court battle against Hollywood heartthrob Brad Pitt, who has been ordered to pay €565,000 in damages for a failure to meet the costs of an architectural project that drove her into bankruptcy.
The court’s decision was made pubic several days ago and while it came as a relief, the damages are not, in the artist’s view, sufficient compensation. “That money won’t cover the losses, that include the company’s premises, the freelancers I had to lay off, my personal reputation and acknowledgment of the project’s authorship,” says Soudant from her Paris apartment.
Soudant’s relationship with the actor began toward the end of 2010 when Pitt visited her office with a proposal for four of the buildings at his Miraval château, the sprawling mansion in Provence that the actor bought for €45 million with his erstwhile partner Angelina Jolie. The idea was to infuse the residential part of the several-hundred hectare property with natural light.
I accepted because we understood each other from the start Odile Soudant
“I accepted because we understood each other from the start,” says Soudant, who specializes in lighting and is known for her work with renowned architect Jean Nouvel. “They were both friendly and normal. If they had asked me to light up the swimming pool in blue or the trees in green, I wouldn’t have accepted. I’ve never sold my soul to the devil. It was never my goal to make money.”
Soudant’s work includes the lighting of the Poblenou Park and the Moritz brewery in Barcelona, as well as projects with artists such as Anish Kapoor and Anselm Kiefer.
The work on the Jolie-Pitt château started in 2011 and involved a team of 17 people, including architects, designers, sound engineers and even an optical physics engineer, who worked out the angles necessary to conduct the natural light to the castle’s interior. According to Soudant, the alterations went forward smoothly until 2013, when Pitt was presented with a list of the costs so far. According to an e-mail sent by one of his assistants, these had reached €25 million. In the e-mail, Soudant is alleged to have billed a total of €4.9 million for her work alone, an amount that the actor described as “criminal”. During the trial, however, it was shown that the actual amount was somewhat less than the alleged figure and that, contrary to the allegations, Soudant had not been responsible for the delays in the project. “Why did they make up that figure?” says the artist. “And why did he believe it? Nobody has got to the bottom of that yet.”
At that point, the actor stopped paying Soudant her monthly fee and she in turn was unable to continue paying her staff and suppliers. The debts accumulated and her credit cards were blocked. “People assumed I was a thief. I survived thanks to friends, who helped me out,” she says.
In the summer of 2014, Pitt bypassed Soudant and used one of her collaborators instead, prompting the artist to take the matter to court.
Soudant billed €4.9 million for her work alone, an amount Pitt described as “criminal”
Three years on, Soudant has one victory behind her and more court proceedings concerning the intellectual property of the work ahead. If Soudant is confirmed by law to be the author of the project, the work on the château could be considered an infringement of copyright, punishable by law.
Pitt’s lawyers, however, maintain that the ideas came strictly from their client who is “passionate about architecture”. This claim was backed up by a number of witnesses during the trial, to which Soudant responded dryly: “If he’s an architect, I’m a Hollywood star!”
The only glimpse Soudant has had of the project since its conclusion is in a recent advert for Guerlain perfumes starring Angelina Jolie, in which director Terrence Malick shows Jolie coming down the stairs of the château bathed in natural light.
But in spite of everything, the artist says she does not regret her involvement. “However painful it has been, I can’t regret taking on a project I put so much into,” she says. “I just want to get back to work now.”
After the Jolie-Pitt divorce, the Hollywood duo decided to keep on the château, which produces wine and olive oil, as a joint investment.
English version by Heather Galloway.