Roman Polanski is a most unsettling figure.
He was six-years-old when the Germans invaded Poland, survived the Krakow Ghetto for Jews, escaped in 1943 with the help of Polish Roman Catholics and was reunited with his father after the war.
His father had somehow also survived the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. His mother did not survive Auschwitz.
His marriage to Sharon Tate was brutally ended in 1969 by her unspeakable murder at the hands of the Manson Family when she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant.
His movies depict horrific violence.
In his first film after Tate’s death, Macbeth, the bloody slaughter of Lady Macbeth and her household was widely regarded as mirroring the Manson murders, but his early work had invariably included graphic violence and Mia Farrow had already given birth to the Son of Satan in Rosemary’s Baby.
In Chinatown (1974), he cameo cast himself as the diminutive thug who viciously slices Jack Nicholson’s nose with a knife (pic).
He does it with such relish you wonder whether he is acting or simply enjoying himself.
In 1976, he began a relationship with Nastassja Kinski who was 15 years old at the time. Polanski was 43.
His predilection for young women continued when he raped 13-year-old Samantha Gailey (pic) whom he had taken to Jack Nicholson’s house in March 1977.
He pleaded guilty to statutory rape.
He had allegedly given her champagne and part of a Quaalude (very popular in the 70s as a sex drug) and had anal intercourse with her to ejaculation to avoid the risk of pregnancy.
He thought he’d cut a stellar plea bargain for probation with no jail time, but on the eve of sentencing got word the judge was not co-operating and so fled to his country of birth, France, where citizens could not be extradited.
In 2002, Vanity Fair published that Polanski had propositioned a young Scandinavian model on his way to Sharon Tate’s funeral, claiming that he could make her “the next Sharon Tate” as he slid his hand inside her thigh.
In 2004, the jury awarded him £50,000.
Polanski pulled off this result without putting a single toe in the English Channel, testifying at trial by videolink from a Paris hotel room.
Vanity Fair’s editor, Graydon Carter, ensconced himself in London for the entire trial, and was flabbergasted by the verdict.
Setting aside any semblance of gallantry in defeat, he fumed:
“I find it astonishing that a man who lives in France can be permitted to sue a magazine published in America in a British courtroom. And that he can do so without ever having to show-up in person.
Furthermore, as a father of four children, one of whom is a 12-year-old daughter, I find it equally outrageous that this story is considered defamatory to a man who can’t be here because he slept with a 13-year-old-girl and has been a fugitive from justice for more than a quarter of a century.”
Carter (seen here) followed this up in the next edition of the magazine where he devoted his entire editorial page to fulminating about the case.
Samantha Geimer added:
“Surely a man like this hasn’t got a reputation to tarnish?”
And so we come to last month where the distinguished director is ambling through Zurich Airport en route to be feted at the Zurich Film Festival with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
He was promptly arrested by the Swiss authorities on a warrant from the LA District Attorney relating to the 1977 offences and is being held at a secret location (what is it with the Swiss and secrecy?) pending the outcome of extradition proceedings.
It is this that makes Polanski such an unsettling figure.
Here is an undoubtedly brilliant director who at 76 is being incarcerated for an offense that occurred 32-years ago.
His victim has gone public and said he should not be further punished.
Sex offenses against children have become so highly charged nowadays that one is hesitant to remind people that things were not the same more than 30-years ago.
Underage sex with a teenager, especially one who had previous sexual experience, was more naughty than heinous in some circles, as was reflected in Polanski’s plea bargain.
His prison psychiatric examination at the time found he was unlikely to offend again.
Countless Hollywood types have now leapt to his defense. Yet he had sex with a 13-year-old girl and then flew the coop while happily continuing a relationship he had previously started with the 15-year-old Kinski (snap).
How can justice turn a blind eye?
For mine, the sweeter justice might be in retribution for his brazen foray into the land of libel.
Here was a bloke who blithely saw nothing wrong in invoking the jurisdiction of an English court to sue an American publication from the safety of a Paris hotel room lest he be exposed to the justice of either country for his sex crimes against a 13-year old girl.
Schadenfreude barely describes it.
As his lawyer, I would be tempted to have him face the music.
His fight against extradition will take months and is unlikely to succeed.
Meanwhile he remains incarcerated with almost no chance of bail.
Better to cut his losses now and move from the secret location to a Californian jail.