French support for Polanski crumbles amid new rape accusations

Interviews to promote director’s new film have been either canceled or pulled since a French photographer claimed he attacked her in 1975

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2017 photo director Roman Polanski poses during a photo call to the screening of "Based on a true story" in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2017 photo director Roman Polanski poses during a photo call to the screening of "Based on a true story" in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS, France (AFP) — The “unconditional support” Roman Polanski has enjoyed from the French film establishment seems to be crumbling after a new rape claim against the controversial director.

Interviews to promote his new film “An Officer and a Spy” — which opens Wednesday — have been either canceled or pulled since a French photographer claimed on Friday that Polanski raped her in 1975 when she was 18 after beating her “into submission” at his Swiss chalet.

The 86-year-old French-Polish film-maker — a fugitive from US justice after he was convicted of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977 — has since threatened to sue.

Valentine Monnier claimed Polanski tried to make her swallow a pill when he pounced on her after they had gone skiing in Gstaad. “I thought I was going to die,” she said in an open letter published by Le Parisien newspaper.

In this file photo taken on May 27, 2017 French-Polish director Roman Polanski (L) and his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, leave the Festival Palace following the screening of the film ‘Based on a True Story’ (D’Apres une Histoire Vraie) at the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. (AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE)

Monnier said she felt impelled to speak out after Polanski appeared to compare himself to the hero of his new film, Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish officer wrongly persecuted as a spy by French army at the turn of the 20th century.

The former actress had previously written to the French first lady Brigitte Macron to complain about Polanski getting public funds to rewrite history to “cover up his criminal past.”

But despite vociferous denials and threats to sue the newspaper from Polanski’s lawyers, his wife actress Emmanuelle Seigner and Jean Dujardin, the film’s Oscar-winning star, have since withdrawn from major interviews on French television and radio to promote “An Officer and a Spy.”

French public radio — one of the film’s promotional partners — also shelved another popular show Monday that featured a pre-recorded interview with Louis Garrel, who plays Dreyfus in the film.

Despite being forced to step down as president of the French Oscars in 2017 after protests by feminist groups, Polanski has weathered previous allegations of rape and sexual assault from other women.

In her letter, Monnier criticized the “unconditional support that [French] artists and intellectuals” have long given Polanski.

But this time his powerful supporters inside the film industry have remained silent.

And in a further blow to legendary film-maker, the French directors’ guild, the ARP, could suspend him as early as next week after telling AFP Tuesday that it supported “all victims of sexual violence and harassment.”

A Femen activist is led away by security staff member inside the film institute La Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. Feminist groups staged a protest against a retrospective honoring movie director Roman Polanski at France’s famed film institute La Cinematheque Francaise. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

It said it is considering changing its rules so that “every member convicted of a sex crime would be expelled and any under police investigation would be suspended.”

Even before the new rape claim there were signs last week that the “tolerance” of predatory sexual behavior in the industry was evaporating after acclaimed actress Adele Haenel said she was sexually harassed by the director of her first film when she was just 12.

Her lengthy interview prompted an outpouring of support, which many observers saw as a turning point in France’s uneasy relationship with the #MeToo movement.

Haenel is so far the only star to speak out in support of Monnier. “I believe her. Her stand is all the more courageous because her aggressor is powerful,” she said.

The actress had earlier poured scorn on those who had defended Polanski, daring them to “read the description of what he did… to the child of 13 on which he forced himself” in Los Angeles.

Haenel added that his case was “symptomatic of a society where women who suffer sexual violence are ignored and treated with contempt.”

But Samantha Geimer, whom Polanski admitted raping in Jack Nicholson’s LA home two years after the alleged rape in Switzerland, criticized Monnier for not speaking out earlier.

How could Monnier have “sat silently while I was called a liar and a gold digging whore in 1977 knowing they may have prevented it,” she tweeted.

French film legend Catherine Deneuve, who attacked the #MeToo movement last year as a puritanical “witch hunt,” has been one of Polanski’s most stalwart supporters, with Thierry Fremaux, the director of the Cannes film festival also warning in 2017 that Polanski’s “case was one which you need to really know before you can talk about.”

Alberto Barbera, the head of the rival Venice film festival, where “An Officer and a Spy” premiered in August, said that “we should make a clear distinction between the man and the artist” while the veteran Greek director Costa-Gavras also defended Polanski, saying “it was 40 years ago… Forgiveness is necessary in society.”

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