L’affaire Polanski

If, like me, you are puzzled by the ludicrous protestations of the movie world about the arrest of Roman Polanski, then this excellent piece by Nick Cohen should provide a useful antidote.

Poor France. What is there left to say about that unfortunate country? It destroys the feudal order in the Revolution only to replace an aristocracy of nobles with an aristocracy of celebrities. The notion that Polanski – an artist! – could be arrested for molesting 13-year old Samantha Gailey turned the brain of its foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, as soft as Camembert.

“It’s a bit sinister, this business,” he said, as he contemplated the lese-majesty. “A man of such talent recognised throughout the world… All this is not nice.” A host of auteurs, led by Constantin Costa-Gavras, director of the Cinémathèque Française, implied that the Zurich Film Festival was the equivalent of a medieval cathedral or United Nations General Assembly, a privileged space where the law&’s writ did not run.

“It seems inadmissible that an international cultural evening, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary film-makers, is used by police to apprehend him,” the directors said as they decried the sacrilege.

Kouchner was right on one point: the scandal from 1977 is “not nice”. Gailey told a grand jury how Polanksi groomed her by saying he could get her into Vogue. He offered her champagne and Quaalude, a sedative which induces trances, raped and sodomised her. She kept saying she wanted to go home, and at one point feigned an asthma attack to get away from him. Asked why she did not struggle further, she replied: “Because I was afraid of him.” Polanski’s parting words were: “Don’t tell your mother about this and don’t tell your boyfriend either. This is our secret.”

He cut a deal, and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a child. Then he fled to Europe to escape sentence, where he promptly began walking out with Nastassja Kinski, then aged 15. In an interview with Martin Amis, he said if he was a murderer the press and police wouldn’t be so obsessed by him. “But… fucking, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to fuck young girls. Juries want to fuck young girls – everyone wants to fuck young girls!”

What’s astonishing is that the French protected Polanski for so long from getting his just deserts in the US courts. But it isn’t only French foreign ministers who have a warped sense of their moral duty. Nick goes on to chronicle the compliance of an English libel judge in allowing Polanski to testify to a London court without making the trip to Britain (where he would properly have been arrested and extradited to the US). Hopefully the Swiss will now quickly hand him over and we can see justice done — finally.