One wouldn’t think that the case against Roman Polanski could get any more hopelessly muddled than it already was. I will never again doubt the awesome confounding power of the international justice system.
Back in September, director Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist), was arrested in the Zurich airport by Swiss authorities on international warrant issued by the U.S. in 1977. Polanski was charged and found guilty of having unlawful sex with a 13-year girl, but fled the country on the eve of sentencing. He had been living and continuing to make movies in France ever since. Since September, Polanski has been under house arrest in Switzerland while awaiting extradition.
But today, Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf (there’s a name you couldn’t make up) announced that Polanski will not be extradited after all, and is free to go. I admit to not fully understanding the situation, but Nick Cumming-Bruce at the New York Times has as clear of an explanation as any I’ve seen:
The director fled on the eve of sentencing in California because of fear that the presiding intended to renege what his defense lawyers said was a deal to avoid a prison sentence.
Ms. Widmer-Schlumpf said the Swiss government had rejected the extradition request in part because American authorities declined to provide confidential testimony from a January 2010 hearing on Mr. Polanski’s original sentencing agreement.
Swiss officials said records from that hearing would have established whether the judge who tried the case in 1977 had assured Mr. Polanski that time he spent in a psychiatric unit would constitute the whole of the period of imprisonment he would serve.
“If this were the case, Roman Polanski would actually have already served his sentence and therefore both the proceedings on which the U.S. extradition request is founded and the request itself would have no foundation,” the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement.
Look, I don’t know if any deal was made back in 1977 so that Polanski wouldn’t have to serve jail time. I don’t know if the judge was planning to go back on that deal. You know why I don’t know these things? HE FLED THE COUNTRY BEFORE GETTING SENTENCED. I’m not a legal expert, but I was under the impression that you don’t get to do that.
Thinking about the Polanski case stretches both my mind and my emotions. Polanski sexually assaulted a minor, and he deserves to be punished for that as any rapist would be, no matter what. But the original prosecutors and judge on his case screwed up in almost every way possible, and if he was going to get off on legal technicalities, it sucks but I don’t know what you can do about it. But then, I believe that he needs to sit down in that damn court room and take whatever sentence he was going to get, no matter how long ago it was. You don’t get to run away from the law. I want the Swiss to understand that and extradite him immediately. But then, I understand that saying that is basically telling the Swiss to mind their own damn business, that the U.S. is perfectly welcome to call the justice systems of other countries corrupt while going unmonitored by the international community itself. That’s pompous and one of the worst trends of the American watchdog mentality.
The one thing I do know: Polanski is indeed a talented filmmaker and a great artist, but that alone does NOT excuse him from facing the legal hounding that anyone else in his position would receive. The petition signed by over 100 prominent filmmakers after Polanski’s September arrest was one of the biggest pieces of self-righteous crap I’ve ever seen, and I was severely disappointed by many of the people who added their names to the signatories. Just because you are heading to an international film festival, you do NOT have immunity from a perfectly legal arrest warrant (and I hardly see how police “used” the festival to lure Polanski to arrest; that was entirely Polanski’s decision to attend, and if he didn’t check our extradition treaties with Switzerland first, that’s his own fault). It is not the legality of Polanski’s art being questioned, but his personal actions; artists are not above the law. Can you imagine how messed up our legal system would be if accused rapists could escape imprisonment on the grounds that such a sentence would restrict their artistic freedom? This is NOT a question of freedom of expression, people. Get over yourselves.
Should we keep watching Polanski’s films? YES. It is possible to admire a man’s talent without aspiring to his personal life. We will forever mention Polanski’s indiscretions in the same breath as his masterpieces, just as we do with Woody Allen or Wagner. Can we as a general public just accept that and move on (not you lawyers – you need to work on officially settling this thing once and for all. just tell us when you’re done)?