Roman Polanski Continues to Win Major Prizes 41 Years into Flight from U.S. Authorities

There’s a lot you can say about Roman Polanski, and trust me, people have said plenty about him over the span of his 86-year life.  He is a Holocaust survivor, Manson Family Widower and one of the most singularly talented directors that the movies have ever seen.  And, of course, he is a serial child rapist that has fled U.S. custody (and his criminal conviction) after confessing to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl.

Because of this storied, sordid history, the director of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974) and The Pianist (2002) has been one of the most widely-discussed a heatedly controversial figures in the film industry for as long as he has been a part of it.  In recent years especially, Polanski has been unable to escape the limelight.  First it was the rise of the Me Too movement, which cast a spotlight on the predatory sexual practices of Hollywood’s powerful and elite; although the focus was on the more contemporary transgressions of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, it served as an uncomfortable reminder of Polanski’s own, unanswered crimes against women and children in the entertainment industry.  Then came his expulsion from the Academy, a decision that he was dead-set to resist, though thankfully to no avail.

As if out of pure, unmitigated spite for the slight injury done to him by the Academy, Polanski went and made the movie An Officer and a Spy (2019), depicting a fictionalized account of The Dreyfus Affair, whose story about a wrongfully-convicted Jewish man amidst one of the most naked miscarriages of justice in modern history seems to parallel Polanski’s perspective of his own (justly served) legal troubles for the past four decades.  And for his self-aggrandizing efforts, he has won the Venice Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, effectively the festival’s second place prize.

Let me be clear in my convictions on the matter, so as to not be misunderstood.  Yes, Polanski is a uniquely sympathetic character in the wide machinations of the 20th and 21st centuries.  Yes, he has endured the evils of the Holocaust and the insanity brought about by the infamously unhinged Charles Manson.  Yes, he is an unparalleled talent who has tapped into the unique, paranoid sensibilities of the late 60s and early 70s better than anybody before, during or after that period.  And, yes, he is an unspeakably monstrous serial-predator who should have served a hard sentence in an iron cage for the past forty years instead of continuing to win fame and fortune behind a movie camera in picturesque Europe.  His continued presence at the forefront of the film industry — despite the US Academy’s best efforts at back-peddling their own enabling of the man in the intervening decades — is a blight upon the medium and an insult to women and their allies everywhere.  Polanski should never have been let into the Venice Film Festival, let alone be awarded to richly while competing there, and, for allowing that to happen, Jury president Lucretia Martel will forever bear the weight of her sins.  Polanski is a stain on the good name of cinema, even as I am forced to acknowledge his invaluable contributions to the same.

Like I said, he is a complicated man with a complicated legacy (although there is nothing complicated about the heinous crimes he has been allowed to commit and remain at large for).

Understand, I have not seen An Officer and a Spy.  It may very well be another choice production from a confessed rapist with an admitted talented for shot composition.  Yet, I cannot say that I will be seeing the movie at any point in the foreseeable future (certainly not so long as Polanski remains alive and at large).  In a year with so many option for great and great-looking movies, why would I ever have to?  Why would I even want to, when doing so directly supports a monster like Polanski in his public defiance of the law and common decency?

This year has already given as a remarkable collection of films to work with, from Jordan Peele’s cerebral Us (his superior follow-up to 2017’s Get Out and my personal favorite film of the year) to Ari Aster’s Midsommar to Lulu Wang’s rapturous The Farewell to Alexandre Aja’s tough-as-nails Crawl.  We’ve had everything from the Russo brothers’ Avengers: Endgame — a singular culmination of a decade’s worth of blockbuster filmmaking — to Jon Watt’s off-beat Spider-Man: Far from Home to Olivia Wilde’s refreshing Booksmart.  If you need to fill some quota of Polanski, there’s even Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s most mature outing to date that also doubles as a happier ending to mid-century Hollywood than history ever gave us (and especially to Manson victim Sharon Tate and Polanski victim Samantha Gailey).  And coming up we have still more high-end movies waiting in the wing, such as Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, Claire Denis’ High Life, James Gray’s Ad Astra, Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, Pedro Almodovar’s Pain & Glory, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, Noah Baumbach’s A Marriage Story and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and that’s just naming a few of the higher profile projects (to say nothing of the equally exciting but more obscure offerings due to debut throughout the rest of the year).

Whether you like it or not, the movies that you choose to support (or not support), says something about you.  It says what kinds of films you want to see more of.  It says what kinds of filmmakers you want to see continue to get work.  It says what kinds of behaviors you’re willing to condone (or even champion) in the men and women you get your entertainment from.  And I don’t know about you, but Roman Polanski is damned near the last person that I want to see more of in the future.

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