Hollywood and European cultural figures reacted in shock and anger to the news that Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski, 76, had been arrested in Switzerland on a 31-year-old U.S. warrant for charges that he had sex with a minor.
“L.A. Prosecutors Set Trap for Polanski,” read the headline on Variety.com.
In Paris, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said he was "dumbfounded" by Polanski's arrest, according to the Associated Press. He added that he "strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them."
In public and private statements, prominent figures in the movie and cultural world expressed amazement that Los Angeles authorities would persist in pursuing the director at this late date, despite evidence of judicial misconduct in his case and the lack of support for a case from the victim, now a grown woman.
“I am both surprised and concerned,” said Mark Urman of Paladin Films, who has worked with Polanski for decades, echoing sentiments expressed by many on the eve of the Jewish holiday of atonement.
“I find the whole thing sad all around,” wrote producer Mike Medavoy by email. Referring to the hunted protagonist in ‘Les Miserables,’ Medavoy added: “While it isn’t exactly Jean Valjean, the original story -- going back to Roman in Poland, the murder of his pregnant wife, and the strange mother-daughter story, the judge -- I think they should drop the charges and he should come and end all of this.”
But L.A. authorities said that if extradited, Polanski would be sentenced at the hearing he avoided by fleeing the country three decades ago.
“It’s appalling,” said French producer Stephane Sperry, who has worked with Polanski. “Roman is 76. And he’s a genius of our generation. It’s amazing to see something come back into the world we’re in with that kind of brutality. We don’t understand where it’s coming from. “
Sperry said French people saw the entire affair as part of the “misfunction” of the American judicial system. “It’s not normal. It’s very disturbing – a bit of a scandal.”
Others said they hoped that this arrest might finally lead to resolution of Polanski’s case.
Said Urman: “I can only hope that, now that this has occurred, it will lead to a swift and definitive resolution of his situation vis-a-vis the U.S. authorities. I have long felt that, were his case dealt with officially, it would be settled in his favor. Maybe this will finally happen.”
Polanski, 76, had been due to receive a prize for his life's work at the Zurich Film Festival on Sunday evening, opening a retrospective of his film career, but was arrested on arrival at Zurich airport on Saturday night.
Calling Polanski, who won the director Oscar for "The Pianist" in 2003, one of the greatest film directors of our time, the Zurich festival directors said they had "received this news with great consternation and shock."
Said Medavoy: “He needs to be able to live a normal life without feeling this shadow over his head. The women involved want him forgiven and feel he should be left alone.”
In a documentary last year titled "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” the filmmakers raised substantive questions about the behavior of the judge, Laurence Rittenband, who was criticized in the film by both prosecution and defense lawyers for being swayed by public opinion and for violating the terms of a plea bargain struck by Polanski before he fled the country. (Rittenband is now deceased.)
In January of this year lawyers for Polanski tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, and to have the case moved out of Los Angeles.
That request was tentatively denied by a judge who demanded that he return to court. The decision is now under appeal.