May 17, 2010

The Polanski case: prosecution vs. persecution

Several film directors attending the Cannes film festival have signed a petition in support of their colleague Roman Polanski, currently under house arrest  in his Alpine Swiss chalet, asking the Swiss government to refuse an extradition request from California, just a few days after a California judge denied Polanski’s request to unseal testimony in the 33-year-old case (but Hollywood star Michael Douglas—in Cannes to promote Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps—said he would not sign the petition).

The signatories include the Franco-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard, and French directors Mathieu Amalric, Bernard Tavernier and Xavier Beauvois. What Polanski advocates think is that, also in the light of what the Franco-Polish film director himself has recently maintained, he is unjustly persecuted. “The United States continue to demand my extradition,” he said, “more to deliver me as fodder to the media of the entire world than to pronounce a judgment on which an agreement was made 33 years ago.” The essence of Polanski’s claim is that he was led to believe that his time in a state facility in Chino would constitute his full sentence, and has been frustrated for the past three decades as US authorities have maintained otherwise.

That’s why, as one who is against any form of persecution, even by judicial means, based on race, nationality, political opinion, personal beliefs, habits, cultural mores, etc., and even though I have to admit that I don’t like Roman Polanski as a person—for what he did, not for what his private views may have been or still be, and apart from my own personal beliefs, habits and cultural mores—I have felt morally obliged to wonder whether he might actually be a victim of persecution because of what he represents. But in all honesty, after reading everything I could get my hands on about the subject, I have come to the conclusion that there is no persecution, just prosecution.

And this even without considering the new allegations by British actress Charlotte Lewis, who on Friday accused Polanski of abusing her just after her 16th birthday. If anything, what is most surprising—and very similar to a persecution—are some reactions to Charlotte Lewis’s allegations. France’s culture minister Frederic Mitterrand, who admitted to paying “young boys” for sexual acts while on holiday in Thailand, referred to them as “pseudo-accusations.” Without the least doubt or hesitation. “I got into the habit of paying for boys,” he wrote in his 2005 autobiography The Bad Life, “[…] All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excite me enormously. One could judge this abominable spectacle from a moral standpoint but it pleases me beyond the reasonable.” It’s the world turned upside down.