PARIS — The news snapshot shows Roman Polanski standing at a window, a thin slice of his face visible amid an opening in the curtains. The French paper that printed the photo saw it as a newsworthy depiction of the director's life under house arrest in his Swiss Alpine chalet.
Lawyers for the "Chinatown" director say that the December 2009 photo and many others invaded his privacy as well as his family's, and he and his wife are suing four French publications, two newspapers and two magazines for a total of about euro150,000 ($217,215).
In a hearing Tuesday, Polanski lawyer Marion Gregoire said the suits were an attempt "to put an urgent stop to the media spotlight" on the filmmaker and his family that has intensified in the months since a 32-year-old sex case against him was revived.
Several of the photos at issue depict Polanski's children, Elvis and Morgane – who, as minors, are especially protected by French media law.
"The legal case against Polanski in no way justifies the paparazzi's stalking of his wife and children," Gregoire said.
Invasion of privacy suits by celebrities are common in France, Polanski's permanent residence and the country where he had lived for three decades before he was arrested in September while en route to a Swiss film festival.
Polanski, arrested on a U.S. warrant, spent more than 60 days in detention in a Swiss jail before being transferred to house arrest in his Swiss vacation home on Dec. 4.
Authorities in Switzerland have not yet ruled on whether to extradite Polanski to Los Angeles. He had fled the U.S. in 1978 on the eve of sentencing after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor in 1977.
In hearings Tuesday, Polanski's lawyer said he has a deeply rooted fear of the media, which she traced back to the stabbing death of his pregnant second wife, Sharon Tate. The actress and four others were murdered by followers of cult figure Charles Manson in 1969.
Polanski has said he was horrified by rumors that swirled in the press before the killers were tracked down – rumors suggesting the victims had bizarre lifestyles and somehow brought the violence upon themselves.
Since then, Gregoire said, "Polanski has feared the media like the plague" and always sought to maintain his privacy.
Gregoire argued that Le Journal du Dimanche weekly newspaper should pay damages of euro10,000 for the photo of Polanski at his window.
The paper's lawyer, Christophe Bigot, held up a photo of a mass of photographers outside Polanski's chalet soon after his house arrest started.
"Can you seriously claim in this context that if you stand at the window you won't get your picture taken?" Bigot retorted. Arguing that the photo was a legitimate depiction of a major international news story, Bigot called the suit unwarranted and asked the judge to order Polanski to pay the newspaper's legal fees.
"The press can and should cover this type of case," Bigot said.
Polanski's lawyer asked for another euro10,000 in damages from Voici magazine for a photo of Polanski's wife, actress-singer Emmanuelle Seigner, walking down a street in Switzerland – a photo that the celebrity-oriented publication called "harmless."
Polanski and his wife are also targeting magazine VSD for a spread that included photos of their children at an airport, demanding a total of euro55,000. VSD's lawyer noted that the photos were taken in public and that the publication blurred the children's faces so they could not be recognized – a common practice in France. Decisions are expected Jan. 19.
A judge also heard a suit against Le Parisien newspaper last week, and that ruling is expected Friday.
In Polanski's sex case, the director was initially accused of raping a 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and a Quaalude pill during a 1977 modeling shoot. He was indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molestation and sodomy, but he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse.
He fled to his native France on the eve of sentencing in 1978 after spending 42 days a California prison for a psychiatric evaluation.