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9.10.09

Welcome Home, Roman Polanski

It looks like even a good part of the French intellectual world may be caving in as far their support of Roman Polanski goes. In 1978 authorities in Los Angeles accused the film director of having raped a 13-year-old girl, at the home of actor Jack Nicholson, after first giving her champagne and illegal drugs. Before sentencing, however, Polanski fled to Europe and has lived in France ever since, protected by an anti-extradition law. That is until late last month when he was arrested in Switzerland, at the request of the Los Angeles authorities. The request for extradition will take months to sort out, but the Swiss seem unlikely to be as indulgent as the French in this case. Initial appeals to dismiss the charges and to release Polanski on bail have been denied.

For me it is always best to keep the artist separate from his art: I can both love some of the films made by Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, The Pianist, Frantic, Tess) and at the same time deplore his personal behavior. Polanski has never really denied the basic charges leveled against him, and his apologists have usually cited his contributions to the history of film, the troubles of his family history, the wish of the victim to have the charges erased, whatever. The French, who have strongly supported him in the past, may not have been aware of the severity of the crimes alleged against Polanski. As reported in an article (L'encombrant M. Polanski, October 7) in Le Monde, he published his side of the events in his autobiography in the 1980s, which left out most of the details of the charges that were most damaging to him. Now, the media coverage of his arrest has made many former supporters, even one of France's most radical voices, realize what actually happened (my translation):

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Green Party leader and ardent defender of personal liberty, surprised some by speaking about his misgivings: "Polanski has been defended by three arguments which I do not accept. To say 'it was thirty years ago' is too simple, going back to a real debate on the notion of the statute of limitations, which is not the same in every country. To say 'he is a great artist' is true, but if he is sick, he should get help. To say 'that was a different era' is to mean really that in the years after 1968 anything goes. That is completely false: in 1968 one did not have the legal right to rape young girls by drugging them." Mr. Cohn-Bendit admits that this topic is a sensitive one for him: his own "provocative writings" on the sexuality of children, published in 1975, have often been a target of criticism against him.
Cohn-Bendit, in other words, knows something about the excesses of the Age of Aquarius: the reference is to infamous passages in Cohn-Bendit's 1975 book Le Grand Bazar, about his time working with children in a kindergarten. This comes after the first clumsy words from a French government official, Frédéric Mitterrand, the Minister of Culture, who condemned Polanski's arrest with words about "a generous America that we love, as well as a certain America that causes fear, and it is that America that has just shown its face." Although Mitterand, the nephew of former French president François Mitterand, presented himself as speaking for the government of France, his statements have since been repudiated officially, not least because in his own autobiography, published in 2005, Mitterand wrote about his own involvement with male prostitutes in foreign countries ("I got into the habit of paying for boys ... All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excite me enormously").

Have the wealthy and politically influential become that detached from any sense of reality? My prediction (and hope) is that Polanski will finally answer for his crime. At the same time, even if he does, it will not stop me from wanting to watch the good movies he made.

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