The climactic scene of Roman Polanski's 1962 classic Knife in the Water leaves the characters torn at the crossroad of their lives. It is ironic that the author of that film masterpiece, Polanski, found himself 32 years ago at such an intersection and made a decision to bail.
It was a conscious decision. Polanski ran from the law. From the legal perspective, the director of Rosemary's Baby became a fugitive that day, wanted for -- according to the deal reached with the prosecutors -- sexual molestation of a child. In fact, from the legal perspective, it was a rape committed by a 45-year-old, very talented man, on a 13-year-old girl, lured with a promise of fame and fortune.
I find it incomprehensible (being also a Polish citizen) that Polish authorities can engage the majesty of the state to defend a fugitive, no matter how famous he is. This is, at least, how one can read a letter of the Polish Foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski, to the American Secretary of State, Hillary R.Clinton, requesting (according to the Polish media) Polanski's pardon. Sikorski's letter constitutes a diplomatic intervention on a ministerial level, involving the state in a case of a fugitive who evaded justice for a court-proven criminal act.
Will Poland, being in the middle of a diplomatic bout with the United States over the scrapped missile defense deal, receive Polanski as a prize for sacrificing its international agreements to Russia? Or perhaps Polanski deserves a pardon because, as the Polish Foreign Minister stated, he is a "recognized film director" whose work the chief of Polish diplomacy "likes"?
One of the Polish filmmakers, Krzysztof Zanussi, calls the then 13-year-old victim "a prostitute" who had been pushed to intercourse by her mother. Can the lifestyle of Hollywood justify the rape of a minor? Film directors know best that as long as there is show business there will be wannabe actresses desiring money and fame. The victims often fall silent because they know that a police report equals the abandonment of that stage in their life.
Anne Applebaum, wife of Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski, writes in the Washington Post that Polanski "has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers' fees, in professional stigma." Applebaum lists the mitigating factors: He could not return to Los Angeles in 2003 to receive his Oscar for The Pianist, Polanski's father survived the concentration camp at Mauthausen while his mother died in Auschwitz, and his wife was butchered by Charles Manson's gang.
I would not like to see Judge Applebaum in court. Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, does not wear a blindfold in Applebaum's cry of protest. Roman Polanski, his life tragic as it is, thirty-two years ago, stood at the crossroads of his life and consciously chose his fate: avoiding justice and paying the price for his act, which was a prison bunk at Chino penitentiary.
The severity of the act cannot be diminished by the fact that "it was a long time ago" or that the perpetrator lives in exile. A sad childhood like Polanski's should strengthen a man's character, rather than become a pass to ruin the life of another human being.
American law is a precedence law, a history of interpreting the letter of the law in the context of similar cases and reaching a decision through analogy. Polanski's pardon could mean that the American court system may be facing the revision of sentencing of sexual molesters sitting in prison, as well as giving up on those who, thus far, have successfully escaped responsibility for their acts.
The world is full of nice, talented guys who sit in jail for making a wrong turn at the crossroads of their lives. The Polish film director should have his day in court. Until then, the final episode of this unfortunate story will not end.
The author is a New York television producer, author, writer, former U.S. television correspondent for TVP, TVN and Panorama.
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