The legendary director Roman Polanski was arrested Saturday in Switzerland, as he arrived to receive an award at the Zurich Film Festival. After hiding out in France for the last 30 years, he now faces extradition to the United States, where he would finally be forced to face the consequences of the 1977 charges against him for raping, sodomizing, and drugging a 13-year-old girl.
The French are furious. (So are a few Huffington Post bloggers, I might add.) This fury is infuriating, but not really all that surprising. The French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has been railing against the Swiss for two days, and Nicolas Sarkozy wants "a rapid resolution to the situation which would allow Roman Polanski to rejoin his family as quickly as possible." The intrepid French daily Le Monde has described Polanski's crime as an affaire de moeurs--a moral transgression, or sexual misconduct. That does sound more poetic than rape.
French officials are pissed for two reasons. Roman Polanski is a French citizen, and two other countries have teamed up to wrench him from his home and drag him into another legal system. The Americans would not be thrilled if France and Italy joined forces to throw Steven Spielberg in jail for speeding along the Riviera. Hillary Clinton would be all over that.
The second reason the French, as well as commentators and film buffs the world over, are upset is that Polanski's drugging and rape of a 13-year old girl just doesn't seem like that big a deal to them. Or, even worse, it is somehow excusable because of earlier traumas in his life. Frédéric Mitterrand, the culture and communications minister and nephew of the beloved former president François Mitterrand, has announced that he "greatly regrets that Mr. Polanski has had yet another difficulty added to an already turbulent existence." CNN quoted Polanski's friend, the photographer Otto Weisser, as saying, "He's a brilliant guy and he made a little mistake 32 years ago -- what a shame for Switzerland."
Polanski has certainly experienced terrible tragedy. Raised in the Warsaw ghetto, his mother was killed in a concentration camp during World War II. Shortly after his success with the film Rosemary's Baby, his gorgeous, pregnant young wife Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson Family. But if Polanski were a nobody--an anonymous survivor of the Holocaust or a sad widower in middle America, no defense attorney would be able to get him off on prior suffering. It's not an excuse, legally or morally, and Polanski should be extradited. Rape is rape, regardless of your level of fame, privilege, or even pain. And even if you make great movies, you shouldn't be able to feed drugs to adolescent girls and get away with it.