In Cannes, The Roads Lead To Roman Polanski And His Latest Legal Fight

Roman Polanski

As of 3:36 p.m. Cannes Film Festival Time on Saturday–6:36 a.m. as time is reckoned here in Los Angeles– the online case records of the Los Angeles County Superior Court still showed no sign of a response by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to Roman Polanski’s demand for reinstatement as an Academy member.

To recap for festival-goers who are already hazy about things back in Hollywood, Polanski was thrown out of the film Academy by a vote of its governing board on May 1, 2018. Two days later, he received a letter informing him of the decision, citing, without detail, his claimed violation of standards of conduct that require “respect for human dignity” and oppose “any form of abuse or harassment.” Polanski, who was first asked to join in 1968, was invited to appeal; but his appeal was rejected on January 26, 2019, according to a filing by Polanski’s attorney Harland Braun, without the director or his lawyer having met and discussed the matter with the governors.

And there things stand, as Academy President John Bailey gets ready for his induction to France’s Ordres des Arts et des Lettres in Cannes on Sunday, while Polanski’s latest film An Officer And A Spy, about a famous case of unjust accusation, goes on sale there with a screening of clips today, and Quentin Tarantino prepares for a Tuesday Cannes premiere of his Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, in which Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, who was Polanski’s wife until she was murdered by the Manson family in 1969.

Yet again, all roads lead to Roman.

My own path crossed Polanski’s on October 19, 1987. I remember the date because Wall Street had crashed. Polanski was editing Frantic at the time. I met him and his then 21-year-old star Emmanuelle Seigner for dinner in Paris. The two of them made out on a banquette while we waited for film distributor Paul Rassam. Rassam, very late, was in a panic, because, he said, American stocks were down 500 points. “You must mean 50,” I said. No, 500 he insisted, nearly a quarter of the market’s value.

This was bad for Rassam, and for an over-extended indie film business. But Polanski didn’t seem to care. He and Seigner—who now stars in An Officer And A Spy–fondled, kissed, eventually got married, and had two children. The 1977 statutory rape case and Polanski’s fugitive status seemed very far away.

But of course they weren’t. Like what Freud called “the return of the repressed,” those unresolved matters kept coming back, looming larger with time, as Polanski was arrested in Zurich, contested his fugitive status in Poland, and was finally, after 41 years, declared unfit to inhabit a film Academy that in the interim had given him an Oscar for directing The Pianist.

Having written about all that some dozens of times, I know better than to revisit the sex case and its aftermath. But Polanski’s civil suit demanding re-admission to the Academy certainly raises some fresh questions. Like: Why Polanski? Why now?

Since the Academy declared its new behavioral standards in December of 2017, only three members—Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski—have been publicly evicted. A fourth, the aforementioned John Bailey, was accused of misconduct and underwent a private review, but was publicly exonerated after word of the accusation was leaked to the press.

Cosby is in jail. Weinstein will go to trial. Polanski is a fugitive. But many dozens of Hollywood stars, filmmakers and executives have been accused of abuse—and even charged with crime—since the Academy standards went into effect. And none of those has been publicly expelled since Cosby and Polanski were bounced a year ago, shortly after Weinstein was ejected.

It’s possible that Academy members have been quietly kicked out, or have survived a confidential review. Asked whether other cases have been considered, an Academy spokesperson said only: “As this relates to a pending legal matter, we can’t comment.”

Eventually, Polanski’s legal challenge may shed some light on the Academy’s review process and decisions. He has asked for “the full administrative record” of his expulsion case, and a trial-setting conference is set for August 15.

But for the moment, Polanski, 85 years old, remains in the thick of things, with a new movie, old memories, and the president of an Academy that honored and then shunned him all on display in Cannes.

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