Tide Gradually Turning Against Roman Polanski in France

After French/Polish director Roman Polanski’s arrest last Saturday night as he was trying to enter Switzerland to attend the Zurich Film Festival where he would accept an award, the first public reactions from his countries of citizenship expressed outrage. More substantively, both the French and Polish foreign ministers issued a joint appeal to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to intervene, which she declined to do.

Now almost a week after the fact, however, attitudes seem to be changing about the case, to Polanski’s detriment. Jan Cienski of the Global Post has a pretty good summary of how that is occuring in Poland, while Doreen Carvajal and Michael Cieply of the New York Times posit the same development in France. (The NYT editors themselves take up the attitude to the case that seems to prevail throughout the American continent: Polanski must be returned to the US to face justice.)

A trip through the on-line French press does turn up indications that the tide has turned against the Oscar-winning director. One interesting piece in the newsmagazine Le Point makes clear how French Culture and Communication Minister Frédéric Mitterand (yes, nephew of the late French president) is now under fire after first springing to Polanski’s defense in the immediate wake of his arrest. Yesterday he was back in front of the press to try to defend his actions. “It’s the place of a Minister for Culture to defend artists in France – period,” he declared, and “Being a great cinema director or a celebrity does not place you above the law, but also doesn’t place you below the law.” Still, he had to add “On the basis of what occurred thirty years ago, I don’t pass judgment, notably because it has not been adjudicated.” (Only technically true, since a plea-bargain had been arranged in the case by early 1978, but Polanski fled the US because he feared the deal was breaking down.)

Meanwhile, over at Le Monde for now the editors are ceding the lead on this story to in-house blogger Jean-Pierre Rosenczveig, whose latest entry is entitled Justice for Roman Polanski. Of course, that title is itself ambiguous. Its meaning depends upon how you want to define “justice,” but also consider that Rosenczveig’s weblog is called “The rights of children viewed by a juvenile-court judge.” It’s no surprise, then, that he also favors Polanski being required to face the music for his deeds of thirty years ago. But Judge Rosenczveig does inject some sanity into the debate with his calm reasoning, emphasizing among other points that Polanski does seem to have committed a crime, recognized as such both in the US and in France, to which he has admitted; that the victim might have “moved on,” been compensated, and thus no longer wishes to keep the case open, but the victim does not control such things: it is always the State, in the form of the prosecutor, trying and punishing the perpetrator in the name of society, not the victim; and that allowing Polanski any further escape would indeed give the most-unwelcome impression that those who are rich and famous need not be subject to the law. Anyway, being returned to the US to face the music will at least draw a line under the affair once and for all, and Polanski probably doesn’t have much to fear: “The Americans aren’t going to cut his head off, and no one wants him to go to prison even if he committed an unpardonable crime in the eyes of the Americans: fleeing.”

With this last point, however, the Nouvel Observateur begs to differ, in an article (with no by-line) entitled In case of extradition, Roman Polanski runs grave risks. The reason is that, in the thirty years since the time of his crime/trial in Los Angeles, American law has become considerably more severe with regard to the sex-with-a-minor offense he is charged with. The piece quotes Stan Goldman, professor at the Loyola Law School (in Los Angeles): “He may not see the light of day again if he appears before a tribunal. In that epoch morals were a bit looser.” The piece goes on from there – again, it’s a shame no author is indicated – to mention that in the recent past some US states (but not including California) have even tried to apply the death penalty to the rape of children, but were only stopped by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.

Finally let me mention one more article – Liberate Roman Polanski as he awaits his trial, by Daniel Salvatore Schiffer – even though it comes from the Belgian La Libre Belgique. Schiffer posits an interesting historical parallel here right from the beginning in his lede: “The Polanski affair makes one think of the Oscar Wilde trial of the very puritan and Victorian 19th century. With, on the part of the American judges, the same animosity and an identical partiality as the English magistrates [showed].” Obviously this is a pro-Polanski piece, but point is an intriguing one: it’s an attempt ruin Polanski on the basis of a sexual matter, just as the English judicial authorities ruined Wilde, the greatest literary genius of his day, as some sort of scapegoat. After two years imprisonment at hard labor, Wilde chose to leave England for Paris, where he died three years later in penury. Will Polanski be similarly affected? Schiffer wonders. He is at least definitely an artistic genius, and so deserves to be set free pending his trial, at the very minimum.

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