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Hollywood

Roman Polanski's Grand Illusion

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Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 1:32 PM


The news of Roman Polanski's Saturday arrest by Swiss authorities drew immediate condemnation, not only from expected quarters (the French) but also from the unexpected (Poland -- where Polanski was raised). Many saw in this policier a compliant Switzerland doing America's bidding. Here, it was said, was another example of an unforgiving, unforgetting Puritan nation acting as world cop, albeit this time on a very personal level. After all, the original crime from which Polanski pleaded down more than 30 years ago has been pardoned by its victim, Samantha Geimer, who was 13 when the auteur allegedly raped her.

Today EOnline! and others report that a petition demanding Polanski's release has been signed by no fewer than 100 international film artists, including Martin Scorsese, Woody  Allen, Wim Wenders and Tilda Swinton.

"The arrest of Roman Polanski in a neutral country, where he assumed he could travel without hindrance," the petition claims, "opens the way for actions of which no one can know the effects."

The idea that a man could be apprehended in neutral Switzerland and held for extradition is no doubt doubly troubling for filmmakers, who may remember the scene in Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion, in which the Swiss border acts as an invisible barrier keeping out German soldiers who are pursuing escaped POWs. No longer, apparently.

There have been some dissenting voices, however. The singer Jewel, E!

reports, has been Tweeting a different kind of outrage: "Polanski-admitted raping a 13

yr old-whys every1 in the arts upset hes facing jail? cause hes a

gifted director? what am i missing?"

Jewel's been joined by, naturally, Nancy Grace, but also by The View member Sherri Shepherd, who, in an unfortunate pairing, compared Polanski to an elderly Nazi on the run.

While

Hollywood lines up behind Polanski, there's every chance this story

will split the film community from the public as much as the Red Scare

did. Even if it doesn't, the ironies, innate drama and questions of

personal morality are everywhere. Sherri Shepherd may have been out of

line to use a Holocaust analogy, given Polanski's escape from the

Krakow Ghetto during World War II and the fact that a Los  Angeles

Superior Court did not convict Polanski of genocide in 1977.

Still, the new

attention thrown on his 33-year-old sex crime will cause people to

wonder if it's really his artistic accomplishments that are shaping their

demands for his release. Would they, after all, be in such a hurry to

petition for the release of a 75-year-old priest who'd escaped his

sentencing hearing?

The ajudication of Polanski's predicament

(he remains in a Swiss jail) is reportedly months away, but he may find

out much sooner how deep his support really extends. The presumed tolerance of the public for a long-ago sexual assault may prove to be an even grander illusion than Polanski's

belief in the safety of a Swiss border.

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