French support for Polanski stirs unease
September 29, 2009 11:24pm
THE French Government's backing for Roman Polanski has triggered unease as dissenting voices said the convicted fugitive sex offender should answer for his crime.
Government ministers and much of the France's cultural elite have rushed to defend Polanski, who was arrested on Saturday in Zurich three decades after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand both sharply criticised US and Swiss authorities over the arrest, which came as the Franco-Polish director arrived in Zurich to receive an award.
Mr Kouchner branded the Oscar-winner's arrest "sinister" and Mr Mitterrand said it was "absolutely dreadful" that the case should return to haunt the Oscar winner so long after the offence.
The French directors' guild and some press have piled in behind the politicians, and it was left to an association to defend child rape victims and a handful of dissidents to make the case against Polanski.
"Is it normal that a man in his 40s is having sexual intercourse with a young child of 13?" said Brigitte Bancel Cabiac of the children's aid organisation Enfant Bleu.
"This man may have indisputable talent but he is nevertheless subject to the rules of our society," she said.
In 1978, Polanski pleaded guilty in a Californian court to "unlawful sexual intercourse" - agreeing to a plea bargain after the girl testified that she had been drugged and sodomised against her will.
He did not wait to be sentenced, and fled to Europe. He now faces extradition to the United States, sentencing for the original crime and possible charges relating to his flight from justice.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a member of the European Parliament but expressed surprise that Kouchner and Mitterrand, a nephew of the late President Francois Mitterrand, had been so quick to take Polanski's side.
"It's an issue for the judicial authorities and I believe that the culture minister, even if his name is Mitterrand, should say 'I am waiting for the case to be examined'," he said.
Mr Mitterrand said on Sunday that Polanski, director of Rosemary's Baby and an Oscar winner for The Pianist, had been "thrown to the lions over an ancient affair that doesn't make any sense."
To jail him, he added, was "absolutely dreadful."
Mr Kouchner said: "This affair is frankly a bit sinister ... Here is a man of such talent, recognised worldwide, recognised especially in the country where he was arrested. This is not nice at all."
US directors Woody Allen, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese have signed a petition protesting Polanski's arrest but another prominent film-maker, Luc Besson, refused to line up behind Hollywood's show of support.
"I have a lot of affection for him, he is a man that I like very much ... but nobody should be above the law," Besson told RTL radio.
"I don't know the details of this case, but I think that when you don't show up for trial, you are taking a risk, " he added.
Asked about the film world's solidarity with Polanski, Besson said "everyone can do as they please ... But I know that I have a 13-year-old daughter and if she were raped, I don't think that I would agree."
Veteran far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has called on Mr Mitterrand and Mr Kouchner to resign, saying he was shocked by the support given to "this criminal paedophile" from "an over-protected cast in show business."
French media were divided on the scandal, with the Paris press portraying Polanski as a victim of a mishandled case, but some provincial commentators accusing the government of pandering to showbusiness.
"The actors and producers who have gathered to defend Roman Polanski have simply forgotten that there can be no artistic immunity against criminal acts," wrote Jacques Camus in the Republique du Centre newspaper.