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Friday, October 02, 2009

The Polanski Affair

If you don't know anything about the Polanski news item, here's a brief recap: Polanski, at the height of his Hollywood celebdom in 1977 took a 13 year old girl to the actor Jack Nicholson's house saying that he's going to take pictures of her for the French edition of Vogue. He gave her drugged champagne and once her senses were quite numbed he performed oral sex, sexual intercourse and sodomy. Before each act she had resisted by saying 'No' and he had forced his way through. To escape conviction he fled the U.S. He was arrested last week in Zurich. He was on his way to the Swiss Film Festival to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. At the time of this post, there's a good chance that he'll be extradited to U.S and sentenced.
About 8 years back when my movie hormones were pumped up I tried reading an unofficial biography of Polanski. The tone dealing with his crime was romanticized. It talked about how as a boy he had a rough ride under the Nazis in the Krakow camp, his mother was killed in the ghetto, how his fully pregnant wife was murdered - all giving him a turbulent state of mind. And to top it all, the author portrayed the girl as having features that were well older than a 13 year old, which might have confused (rather invited) him about her real age. It was morally repulsive to continue reading a book that cheaply defended a criminal and I put it down.

But to my surprise, it was not just that author who seems to be enamored with Polanski as an artiste, most of today's France is. It is one thing for a group of cinema directors (Scorsese being one of them) to stand united behind him and ask for the charges be dropped (as repugnant as it may be). But for politicians to call the arrest "Absolutely horrifying" and "Judicial lynching" is plainly preposterous. They have an obligation to say at least the politically right thing, not just reflect popular sentiment.
Some defenders claim that even the victim has forgiven and moved on and why should the law authorities continue to pursue. That the victim has moved on shows her grace and maturity. If anything, that's how one copes with her life - by treating every new day the first day of the rest of her life. But the idea of the justice system is to ensure fairness by assuring the common man and his teenage daughter that those with powerful connections don't escape through cracks. A good artiste does in no way translates to a law abiding person and as much as good art is necessary for society, strong law enforcement is even more vital for the functioning of a society.

History is replete with abusive, unstable, socially graceless artistes who have gone on to produce masterpieces that have stood the test of time. I try to see Polanski and his works as separate entities. If we had to judge a song or a movie or a painting based on the moral highness of the artiste producing it, we'd have a lot of empty galleries, silent airwaves and crappy movies. Polanksi, as a director, has been handed the lifetime award by cinema fans long before. I don't think his notoriety will surpass his artistry. Picasso was never faithful to his 3 wives, but we don't remember him for that. With that in mind, Polanski should surrender himself without posing legal challenges and in the process make himself a real man.

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