Actors are often asked to do things they may find uncomfortable during production. Some they understand come with the territory of the profession; however, others are highly unusual. Striking another actor in the face falls into the latter category. Through camera placement, editing, and performance, actors have been pretending to hit other actors for a long time with no issue. There are those filmmakers, though, who don’t believe something is real unless it actually is, which can cause a lot of problems.
Sam Neill recently told The Independent about how horrific it was that Andrzej Żuławski wanted him to slap Isabelle Adjani:
“I said: ‘Look, Andrzej, I have to say no. I can’t do that. You can’t ask me to do that. I have never raised a hand to another human being and I have to say no. Please don’t ask me to. I’m not going to do it.’ Then Adjani came up to me. She said: ‘Sam you have to do this. You must.’ I said: ‘Please, Isabel do not ask me’. She said: ‘You must do it.’ So I had to do it. I have to say it was the most distressing thing I’ve ever had to do on film. And there were casualties. Isabelle famously had a breakdown at the end of it.”
Though Adjani did give her consent for Neill to really hit her, that consent very well could have been given under duress given the circumstances, especially given that she broke down afterwards. The scene is certainly upsetting, as it should be. However, it also uses a lot of quick cutting that obscures most of the actual contact. You could watch it and assume they were staged slaps, and it’s really unfortunate that this wasn’t the case.