So there I was listening to the morning news in Paris when I heard that Roman Polanski (right), the director of Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist, had been arrested in Switzerland in response to a 30-year-old international warrant issued by the United States seeking to bring Polanski to trial for "having had sex" with a 13-year-old girl. The word "rape" was avoided; the focus was on the Swiss "treachery" of inviting Polanski to a film festival (to award him a prize) and then arresting him.
Then French politicos and "intellos" got into it, and got ugly when openly gay culture minister Fréderic Mitterand (nephew of former President François Mitterand) expressed his support for Polanski (as have many French intellectuals) and was attacked as a pedophile (based on his book La Mauvaise Vie, in which he tells of his encounters with young male Thai prostitutes). Various ministers and sub-ministers put in their 2 cents, then had to retract, and voilà! The "Polanski affair" became the "Mitterand affair." Meanwhile I'm thinking, "what about the girl?" Le Courrier International (a French Utne Reader), read my thoughts and rounded up some great articles from various papers around the world. In short, like several Italian terrorists of the 1970s, after fleeing the US, Polanski found refuge in France, where artistic geniuses may be indulged to the point of impunity. Thus the "Polanski affair" has renewed the Franco-American culture war: the French see the Americans as uptight Puritans overreacting to a man having sex with an adolescent girl, while the Americans see the French as a bunch of lascivious libertines (for a lighter take on the cross-cultural issue see this Doonesbury strip and keep clicking "next"). But as Brendan O'Neill points out in his "culture war" article, the case has also quite unfortunately become a war between victims: then 13-year-old Samantha Gailey, sedated, raped & sodomized by a 44-year-old man; and Polanski, a Holocaust victim--the holiest of victims, untouchable in guilt-ridden Europe because he has already suffered the unspeakable. Never mind that as one who has suffered, you'd think he be reticent to inflict suffering on others.
Missing from the polemic is any idea of justice: Polanski admitted his guilt back in '77, the issue now is how to repair the victim and punish the perpetrator more than 30 years after the crime. Ellen Snortland has a great suggestion: in her open letter to Polanski, she asks him to back her film on violence against girls and women, a sentence that would no doubt do more for society, and perhaps Polanski's rehabilitation, than locking him up. Meanwhile, as the intellectuals line up behind him, the Swiss are digging in their heels and refusing to release Polanski, who is fighting extradition.