With bungling financiers and a brooding and bewildered prime minister, the British do not have much to feel superior about. Yet in these dark days when all sources of consolation seem gone, at least the Polanski affair allows us to enjoy our traditional pleasure of patronising the French.
Poor France. What is there left to say about that unfortunate country? It destroys the feudal order in the Revolution only to replace an aristocracy of nobles with an aristocracy of celebrities. The notion that Polanski – an artist! – could be arrested for molesting 13-year old Samantha Gailey turned the brain of its foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, as soft as Camembert.
“It’s a bit sinister, this business,” he said, as he contemplated the lese-majesty. “A man of such talent recognised throughout the world… All this is not nice.” A host of auteurs, led by Constantin Costa-Gavras, director of the Cinémathèque Française, implied that the Zurich Film Festival was the equivalent of a medieval cathedral or United Nations General Assembly, a privileged space where the law’s writ did not run.
“It seems inadmissible that an international cultural evening, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary film-makers, is used by police to apprehend him,” the directors said as they decried the sacrilege.
Kouchner was right on one point: the scandal from 1977 is “not nice”. Gailey told a grand jury how Polanksi groomed her by saying he could get her into Vogue. He offered her champagne and Quaalude, a sedative which induces trances, raped and sodomised her. She kept saying she wanted to go home, and at one point feigned an asthma attack to get away from him. Asked why she did not struggle further, she replied: “Because I was afraid of him.” Polanski’s parting words were: “Don’t tell your mother about this and don’t tell your boyfriend either. This is our secret.”
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