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The truth about Roman Polanski

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Justice is almost never swift. But rarely does it take as long as it has in the sordid and surreal saga of Roman Polanski. On Sept. 26, the Oscar-winning director, 76, was on his way to the Zurich Film Festival when he was detained at the airport by Swiss officials armed with a U.S. arrest warrant for an offense dating back more than 30 years, perhaps finally bringing a close to one of the more open-and-shut celebrity crimes ever committed.

No one can dispute that Polanski is a great filmmaker. He’s made at least three masterpieces — 1965’s Repulsion, 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, and 1974’s Chinatown. But let’s be clear about this: He’s also an admitted felon who’s never had to pay for his crime and who has always played the role of a victim hounded by overzealous prosecutors and forced to live in exile. This is utter nonsense.

Here are the facts: In 1977 Polanski, then 43, brought a 13-year-old aspiring model to his friend Jack Nicholson’s home in the Hollywood Hills (Nicholson wasn’t there at the time). He told the girl he was photographing her for French Vogue. He plied her with champagne and quaaludes and then, despite her protests, had unlawful sexual intercourse with her.

Before he could be sentenced, Polanski fled to France, which doesn’t have a full extradition treaty with the U.S. He has lived there for three decades, raised a family and made nine films (including The Pianist and the just-wrapped Ewan McGregor movie The Ghost), and lived as a free man.

Until last week.

In the wake of Polanski’s arrest, both the French and Polish governments have appealed for the director’s release. Meanwhile, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and a who’s who of international filmmakers have signed a petition supporting Polanski. And Debra Winger, speaking for the jury at the Zurich Film Festival, lashed out at ”the philistine nature” of his detention. Huh?

Polanski owns a home in Switzerland and the Swiss have never nabbed him before. But at this point in the soap opera, the question shouldn’t be, Why was he arrested now? (It’s not as if his crime has been made any less repugnant by the passage of time.) The question should be, Why are governments and fellow artists rallying around him? Have they forgotten that he drugged and raped a 13-year-old? The director’s Hollywood pals should think twice before they start printing up ”Save Polanski” T-shirts.


A Turbulent 40 Years

1968
The Polish director makes Rosemary’s Baby with Mia Farrow.

1969
His pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, is brutally murdered by Charles Manson followers.

1974
Polanski helms Chinatown, which earns a whopping 11 Oscar nominations.

1977
After a photo shoot, Polanski drugs and rapes a 13-year-old girl. He pleads guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor, and flees the U.S. for France one year later.

1997
An attempt to settle the case fails when Polanski refuses to return to the U.S. to attend hearings.

2003
Polanski wins his first Oscar, for The Pianist. He watches the telecast from Paris.

2008
The doc Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired hints at what Polanski claims was judicial misconduct. The director requests a dismissal, which is denied.

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