Polanski couldn’t fathom going to prison for having what he considered consensual sex with a young, mature girl. “I was incredulous,” he said. “I couldn’t equate what had happened with rape in any form.”
Polanski was generous with his time when I saw him in Paris, and he was friendly and affable when I saw him again in 2007 when he had come to be honored at the Camerimage Film Festival. He definitely had a “European” take on the joys of sex and couldn’t quite grasp the puritanical thinking of the American judicial system.
So, how was I to respond to reporters who wanted to know what I thought about his situation? Should he be sent back in handcuffs to stand before a judge and finally be sentenced, 32 years after the deed? John Huston thought he should have manned up. But Polanski’s lawyers had felt that their client had been betrayed by the judge, who had agreed to sentence him to time served and then changed his mind the day before Polanski was to stand before him. Polanski felt he had been lied to. He had agreed to be psychoanalyzed in prison for 42 days and to abide by the findings of that analysis. But when that analysis advocated he be released on time served, the judge decided not to abide. So Polanski got on a plane and never looked back.
It was complicated. When I first answered the question in Poland I mentioned that I had two daughters, and if a 44-year-old man had given one of them a Quaalude and had her wash it down with champagne, then asked her to undress and get into a hot tub to pose for pictures, and then go to another room to have sex, I would not want such a man to escape justice. But wasn’t Polanski already punished by his actions? Wasn’t he deprived of working in the U.S., of living the Hollywood life? Of ever working in England as well? Didn’t he have a teenage daughter with Emmanuelle Seigner (who had married him when she was 18 and he was 51)? And how would he explain himself to her? Wasn’t that, too, a form of punishment? Polanski was 76 years old. He had suffered under the Nazis, he had lost his mother, his first wife had been stabbed 16 times, killing her and her 8 month old fetus, he had made a mistake and was denied access to the great Hollywood movie-making machine. For over thirty years his actions had been ignored. But now, with a new District Attorney in Los Angeles, they were coming after him for their pound of flesh.
What did I think should be his fate? I was asked this in Warsaw, in Krakow, in Lodz. I hemmed and hawed. I said I believed in justice, but I wasn’t sure what, exactly, was just anymore. The young girl he had sex with was now a woman in her forties. Polanski had paid her a half million dollars from a civil suit. She felt he should be left alone, that he had already paid a dear price for his actions. Polanski found support from fellow filmmakers like Mike Nichols, Woody Allen, Neil Jordan, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, and Steven Soderbergh, who joined writers Salman Rushdie and Milan Kundera, and French president Nicolas Sarkozy in signing petitions asking that the Swiss courts free him immediately and not turn him “into a martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States.”
In the end, I came to the conclusion that there was no “correct” answer. Mistakes had been made by the prosecutors and the judge, just as Polanski had made mistakes in judgment. “I don’t know what to say about Roman Polanski,” I finally said to the reporters who asked, not wanting to offend a nation that idolizes him. “I’ve written a novel that has only been published in Polish. It’s about what goes on in Hollywood. There’s a scene where the 10-year-old daughter of my main character is sexually molested by an actor the same age Polanski was when he committed his sexual act. I dealt with the guy by having the mother of the young girl stab him with a pen knife and then run him over with her car. He doesn’t die, but winds up a cripple. When he gets out of the hospital my main character sees him at an outdoor restaurant with a young boy; he sends the boy away and punches the actor, who was his best friend, knocking him out of his wheelchair. Roman Polanski was not my best friend, but if I was the father of the girl he seduced, I’m pretty sure I’d react the way my character does. So, why don’t we talk about that?”