Despite new sex assault allegations, Polanski’s Paris show goes ahead in name of ‘cinematic history’
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A retrospective of Roman Polanski’s works opened in Paris Monday amid a string of new sex allegations targeting the controversial film director. While organisers argue it is not their place to moralise, feminists call the show an “insult to women”.
The 10-day retrospective, organised by France’s partly state-funded film institute La Cinémathèque Française, comes as the Franco-Polish director faces new accusations of women saying he sexually assaulted them as young girls, bringing the total number of cases against him to five. The latest alleged victims say they finally chose to speak out following the recent revelations involving Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, which unleashed a wave of sexual harassment accusations committed by men in powerful positions, especially within the entertainment industry, via the #MeToo hashtag.
In France, the Weinstein scandal also prompted the birth of the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc ("squeal on your pig"), which encouraged thousands of women to name and shame their sexual harassers on Twitter and other social media. Over the weekend, thousands of people rallied in Paris and other French cities in support of the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc campaigns.
The film institute’s decision to go ahead with the long-scheduled Polanski retrospective – despite the new allegations – have outraged French feminist groups, which have called on the Cinémathèque to cancel the event.
“La Cinémathèque Française has a sense of perfect timing – right in the middle of the Weinstein scandal and as a fifth Roman Polanski victim has come forward – it announces it will host a retrospective of the director’s films that will be inaugurated on October 30, 2017, in his presence,” activist Laure Salmona wrote in a petition that had garnered more than 27,000 signatures by noon on Monday.
"It's an insult to all the women who mobilised around the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc hashtags, and an affront to all rape victims, particularly Polanski's victims," she wrote.
On Monday evening, 30 minutes before Polanski was scheduled to hold his inauguration speech of the retrospective, French feminist group Osez le féminisme (Dare feminism) called for a protest outside the Paris-based film institute. Films directed by Polanski include “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Chinatown" and “The Pianist”.
‘We have nothing to discuss’
French Culture Minister Françoise Nyssen, however, has argued that the retrospective is about pieces of work, rather than the filmmaker himself.
"It's about a body of work, not about a man," she said. "It's not for me to condemn a body of work." She added that the exhibition was planned long before the Weinstein scandal erupted, which has revived the debate about Polanski.
In a statement emailed to FRANCE 24, Costa-Gavras, the Greek-French film director who is president of La Cinématèque, said that despite the protests, the institute had no intention of changing its programme, saying its role is neither to moralise or "take the place of the justice system".
“Those who reproach us for this have never set their foot in our establishment and do not know anything about our missions of conservation and transmission.”
“Our ambition is another: To show the integrality of filmmakers’ works and place them in the context of cinematic history. Out of this point of view, Polanski’s works, from genre films to painful confessions, recount nothing less than the 20th century,” he wrote.
“We have nothing to discuss with the people demanding that La Cinémathèque française abandons its fundamental mission: To tirelessly show the works of great filmmakers.”
In 1977, Polanski pleaded guilty to statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl after she dropped more serious charges against him. Polanski was 43 at the time, and spent 42 days in jail before being released on parole for good behavior. In 1978, Polanski fled the United States to France after learning that a judge was planning to scrap his plea deal and as a result Polanski might then face the possibility of being sent to prison for decades. He has since been a fugitive from the US justice system and has spent most of his time in Paris, France. All efforts to extradite him back to the US have so far failed.
In 2010, a former actress claimed Polanski had forced himself on her when she was 16 and auditioning for a role in Paris back in 1983. In August this year, a third woman came forward, claiming she had been sexually assaulted by Polanski, in California in 1973, when she was 16.
After the Weinstein scandal broke earlier this month, two more women have come forward, accusing the filmmaker of molesting them as children. One of them, a former model, claims that Polanski raped her in a hotel room in Switzerland in 1972, when she was 15 years old. The other, an American artist, alleges that Polanski molested her on a California beach in 1975, when she was just 10.
Polanski has denied the claims.
Monday’s rally in Paris will not be the first time Polanski has been targeted by French feminists. In February, he was pressured to pull out from hosting the prestigious César awards – the French equivalent of the Oscars – after feminists called for a boycott of him receiving the honourary role.