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French Support For Roman Polanski Wanes


Oscar-winning filmmaker Roman Polanski has always enjoyed acclaim in France despite having pled guilty to statutory rape here in the U.S. back in the 1970s and fleeing the country before he could be sentenced. Now his latest film, "J'accuse," is a hit in France. The French have long drawn a line separating an artist's work and his personal life. But as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, with Polanski's latest film and for his latest accuser, that line may be fading.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: "J'accuse" is about the 19th-century Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish army officer unjustly convicted of treason.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He is eventually exonerated. But the scandal rips French society apart and exposes the widespread anti-Semitism of the day. The film's title is taken from writer Emile Zola's famous letter accusing top military and government officials of framing Dreyfus.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: But the film's rollout last month was marred by another accusation against Polanski by Valentine Monnier.

CATHERINE BALLE: When the rape she denounces happened, Valentine was 18 years old. She just got out of high school a few months earlier. Roman Polanski was a powerful Hollywood filmmaker.

BEARDSLEY: That's Catherine Balle, who interviewed Monnier for newspaper Le Parisien. Monnier is now a photographer and a former actress and the sixth woman to publicly accuse Polanski. Monnier told Balle the assault took place in 1975, and Balle says the photographer tried to put the nightmare behind her.

BALLE: When Valentine Monnier learned that Roman Polanski was preparing a movie named "J'accuse," which means I accuse, on the Dreyfus Affair, she was outraged because in the interviews, Polanski compares the harassment Captain Dreyfus endured at the end of the 19th century with the one he endured since 1977, which is when he was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl.

BEARDSLEY: Polanski pleaded guilty to statutory rape in that case but fled the U.S. before sentencing. In a rare interview given to magazine Paris Match this week, Polanski denied Monnier's accusations and said he was being painted as a monster.


BEARDSLEY: As "J'accuse" opened in cinemas across the country, protesters blocked theaters like this one in Paris, denouncing ticket holders as complicit. Some theaters had to cancel screenings. The film's publicity rollout was scaled back and interviews canceled.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Shouting in French).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Shouting in French).

BEARDSLEY: TV screens and editorial pages have been filled with the debate over whether or not to see "J'accuse." It's even split the French government. The equality minister says she won't see it. The prime minister says he plans to take his kids.

Polanski is not alone. Several weeks before his accuser came out, 30-year-old star actress Adele Haenel brought accusations and charges against another French director, Christophe Ruggia.


ADELE HAENEL: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: In an hour-long interview with an investigative website, Haenel described how for months, Ruggia groped, harassed and traumatized her on the set of a movie when she was 12. Edwy Plenel is head of that investigative news site, Mediapart. He says his reporters face powerful people who want to squelch the #MeToo movement in France.

EDWY PLENEL: It's really a fight against a sort of French culture - seduction, seduction a la francaise, l'elegance a la francaise (ph). It's not a question of seduction. It's a question of abuse of power.

BEARDSLEY: Mediapart reporter Marine Turchi broke Haenel's story, and it's getting attention, she says, because Haenel is a popular actress. But Turchi says the industry, critics and fans still too often look the other way when it comes to powerful actors and directors like Polanski.

MARINE TURCHI: I'm not asking to censor the movie. I'm just saying, let's debate on that. Let's ask Roman Polanski how it influenced this work and also the actors from the movie. He's making a movie which is called "J'accuse." I mean, how could we be silent? For me, it's crystal clear. We can't separate the man and the artist.

BEARDSLEY: One French film directors association is considering suspending Polanski. But two years after the #MeToo movement began in Hollywood, Marine Turchi says there is still a wall of silence around sexual crimes in the world of French cinema.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.