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Home Blog Features Polanksi's Crime and Punishment
Polanksi's Crime and Punishment Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 28 September 2009 18:40
"If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be punishment-as well as the prison."
Crime and Punishment

On Saturday, Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for a 31 year old crime: that of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13 year old girl. Currently in custody and facing extradition, there's been a massive outcry both for and against the revered film director. But should he be pardoned or punished? Man is subject to the law of the land - of that there is no doubt. But what of the artistic man? Is he any more than the morals that pin down the rest of society? I don't like Rosemary's Baby, and even I feel sorry for him.

There's no doubting the contribution Polanski has made to culture. Roman's friends and countrymen have stood up to say exactly that, with the French Culture Minister, Frederic Mitterrand, at the head. He laments the director's "absolutely dreadful" detention, which sees him "thrown to the lions for an ancient story, imprisoned while travelling to an event that was intending to honour him: caught, in short, in a trap".

Taken en route to his own tribute evening, Polanksi's imprisonment was poorly timed. But no matter how long ago a crime was committed, can he really expect special treatment? Lots of cineastes believe so, with a petition doing the rounds signed by figures such as Wim Wenders, Harvey Weinstein, Pedro Almodovar and Michael Mann. The disapproval is global, not just from Polanski's fellow Frenchmen (he was born in France to Polish parents).

Some argue that he has suffered enough. True, the stain on his name and the effective exile from America hasn't done him many favours (although it didn't stop him creating Oscar-winning films, it must be said), but his life has been hard since childhood; though born in Paris, he spent his early days in the Krakow ghetto, before losing his mother to Auschwitz and having his wife, Sharon Tate, murdered by a Manson.

Sympathy is all well and good, but what if another man committed his crime? If a middle-class teacher from Essex was accused of sexual intercourse with a minor, along with possible rape by use of drugs, would he deserve a pardon? The Daily Mail definitely wouldn't approve.

Artists often lead controversial lifestyles, and reward us with the results of their experience, but justice is for all. Isn't it? Polanski did, after all, plead guilty to his charges and agreed to psychiatric confinement for several weeks. Then, after Judge Laurence Rittenband expressed misgivings on a potentially lenient verdict, Polanski fled the country. Filing for appeal later, Polanski cited "misconduct" in his case, which saw the trial judge improperly colluding with the prosecuting team (for more, see documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired).

Given the potential injustice served, Polanski's punishment seems somewhat unnecessary. Especially given the view of his victim, Samantha Geimer. She wants the incident dropped once and for all. Surely the will of the victim is a central concern of the law - Polanski has hardly been a threat to society since. So why arrest him now, of all the times he's visited Switzerland?

There are, of course, rumours of political machinations - helped along by an accidentally leaked memo from Associated Press on the Forbes website. The Swiss, it goes, are possibly currying favour with the US amidst a tax evasion scandal between Swiss bank UBS and various rich Americans. By honouring the US arrest warrant, they are handing over one of cinema's great talents in exchange for some breathing room.

And so poor old Polanski was picked up at the airport, on the way to collecting a lifetime achievement award - in a way, he got the reward for his most famous act. But is that really the right way to go about such things? Even if the man should be put behind bars, surely they could have waited in the wings like Nazis, Sound of Music style, until after the main event? At least that way, one of the world's greatest directors (Rosemary's Baby aside) could have retained some amount of respect.





  • arrest
  • bail
  • charges
  • director
  • film festival
  • fugitive
  • minor
  • rape
  • roman polanski
  • switzerland
  • the pianist
  • unlawful