Polanski film tops French box office despite rape claim

Defying calls for boycott of ‘An Officer and a Spy,’ hundreds of thousands flock to see movie about anti-Semitic persecution of French Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus

Screen capture from a trailer for the Roman Polanski film 'J'Accuse' (An officer and a spy), released in 2019. (YouTube)
Screen capture from a trailer for the Roman Polanski film 'J'Accuse' (An officer and a spy), released in 2019. (YouTube)

PARIS, France (AFP) — Roman Polanski’s new film is topping the French box office despite a new rape allegation against the controversial director.

“An Officer and a Spy” surged ahead of the Matt Damon racing car epic “Ford v Ferrari” — which is top of the US box office — despite the publicity campaign for the movie being suspended in the wake of the latest claims against the veteran film-maker.

French photographer Valentine Monnier threw the release of the historical thriller about the Dreyfus Affair into disarray by accusing Polanski of raping her in 1975 when she was 18 after beating her “into submission” at his Swiss chalet.

But despite protests outside cinemas and a call by feminists to boycott the movie starring Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin, nearly 400,000 people had flocked to see it by late Monday.

French-Polish director Roman Polanski looks on on stage after the preview of his last movie ‘J’accuse’ (An Officer and a Spy) in Paris, November 4, 2019. (Thomas SAMSON/AFP)

Polanski, 86, denies attacking Monnier, a former model and actress, and has threatened to sue his accusers.

The unexpectedly strong turnout for the film is the seventh best opening weekend by a French film in 2019, according to figures from CBO Box-Office.

Its success angered critics of the French-Polish maker of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown,” who has been a fugitive from US justice since admitting to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977 in a plea bargain to avoid a trial on more serious charges.

Melissa Silverstein, the American founder of Women and Hollywood, was scathing.

“WTF France?” she tweeted.

‘Heads in the ground’

“In the column of how much more work needs to be done (on women in the film industry) — Roman Polanski’s movie led the box office in France.”

Silverstein had lacerated the organizers of the Venice film festival earlier this year for selecting the film, which went on to win the Silver Lion and the critics’ prize despite the head of the jury, Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, admitting she was “uncomfortable” about Polanski.

Industry insiders said that “An Officer and a Spy,” based on the anti-Semitic persecution of the French Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus, might have done even better had it not been for the new rape claim.

They told the film industry bible Variety that the movie’s success is clearly driven by word-of-mouth, and that its strong run in cinemas is set to continue.

As the box office figures were released Monday, the French directors guild ARP passed a proposal that could see Polanski suspended from the organization next year when its members meet to discuss a rule change on sexual abuse claims.

“We cannot put our heads in the ground and pretend that the world hasn’t changed,” Pierre Jolivet, the head of the ARP, told AFP.

Polanski has already been expelled from the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, although he has mounted a legal challenge to the decision.

French director and Civil Society of Authors, Directors and Producers (ARP) president Pierre Jolivet poses during a photo session in Paris, April 11, 2019. (Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

Meanwhile, veteran French director Nadine Trintignant rowed back on her earlier support for the veteran after saying that she was “more inclined to believe him than a woman who has taken 44 years to think about denouncing him.”

In a new statement, the mother of the actress Marie Trintignant — who was killed by her pop star boyfriend Bertrand Cantat in 2003 — insisted she supported all women who “courageously struggle to stop violence against women.”

It came after her family — one of France’s theatrical dynasties — said they “believed Monnier.” and without naming Polanski, stressed that “even an immense artist is first of all a human being.”

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