The response to new allegations levelled at director Roman Polanski shows a cultural shift is underway in the countryby Cécile Guerin / November 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
Roman Polanski’s latest film J’Accuse (An Officer and a Spy) is the French-Polish director’s take on the Dreyfus Affair, the treason conspiracy which targeted Jewish soldier Alfred Dreyfus in the late 19th century in France, a national scandal which became a textbook case of prejudice and miscarriage of justice. As a new sexual scandal is threatening to engulf Polanski, many have speculated about the film’s subtext and the extent to which Polanski identifies with the beleaguered army captain at its centre.
A few days ago, photographer and former actress Valentine Monnier has accused Polanski of raping her at his chalet in the Swiss resort of Gstaad in 1975, when she was 18. (Polanski has strongly and repeatedly denied the claims.) A fugitive of the US justice system since the 1970s, Polanski previously pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old, and has faced several allegations of assault in recent years. The director has also faced growing scrutiny in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, which he described as an example of the “mass hysteria that occurs in society from time to time.”
The #MeToo movement which swept the US two years ago led to the downfall of powerful men in the film industry, including Harvey Weinstein. Polanski, in contrast, has continued to enjoy a successful career in France, seen his films presented at prestigious film festivals and found wide-ranging support in the industry. While the latest allegations are not proven, there are already signs that the affair has marked a social turning-point in France and has given the previously controversial movement a new life there.
France has had a complicated relationship with the #MeToo movement. After the movement emerged in the US, a sister movement took shape in France under the name Balance Ton Porc (Denounce Your Pig), and quickly faced a social backlash. Concerns that the movement could become a “witch hunt” against men made headlines. Actress Catherine Deneuve and 99 other women signed an open letter defending men’s “freedom to pester” and denouncing the “hatred of men” they believed could result from the movements. Powerful men in the film industry who faced accusations of sexual abuse, including Luc Besson, found widespread support.
Now, calls to boycott Polanski’s latest film are gathering pace on the streets and on social media, where users have rallied…