Director Roman Polanski, whose turbulent life has on occasion come close to resembling the violent, perverse world of his movies, was arrested in Zurich on a 1978 US arrest warrant for sex with a 13-year-old.
Polanski (76) had been due to receive a prize for his life’s work at the Zurich Film Festival on Sunday evening, opening a retrospective of his distinguished film career but was arrested after arriving in Switzerland on Saturday night.
Calling Polanski, who won Best Director Oscar for The Pianist in 2003, one of the greatest film directors of our time, festival organisers said they had “received this news with great consternation and shock”.
French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was “stunned” to hear about Polanski’s arrest, his office said, adding President Nicolas Sarkozy was following the case and hoped the matter could be resolved allowing Polanski to return to his family.
“We are going to try to lift the arrest warrant in Zurich … the [extradition] convention between Switzerland and the United States is not very clear,” Polanski’s lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told France Info radio.
Zurich Cantonal Police spokesperson Stefan Oberlin said the arrest of Polanski, who holds French citizenship, was carried out on instruction from the Federal Justice Department in Berne. Polanski was arrested in the United States in the late 1970s and charged with giving drugs and alcohol to a 13-year-old girl and having unlawful sex with her at a photographic shoot at Jack Nicholson’s Hollywood home.
Maintaining the girl was sexually experienced and had consented, Polanski spent 42 days in prison undergoing psychiatric tests but fled the country before being sentenced.
Considered by US authorities as a fugitive from justice, Polanski, whose films include Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, has lived in France, avoiding countries that have extradition treaties with the United States.
“Both the extradition arrest warrant and any extradition decision can be challenged in the Federal Penal Court,” the Swiss Federal Justice Department said, adding these decisions could in turn be taken further to Switzerland’s Federal Court of Justice.
Few lives have turned into the macabre public spectacle that Polanski’s has, first after the gruesome murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate in 1969 by the Charles Manson murder gang, and again eight years later when he was arrested for the statutory rape of the 13-year-old girl.
But few directors have laid bare their inner fantasies and fears like Polanski in films such as Repulsion and The Tenant — films of disturbing brutality shot through with voyeurism and dark humour.
From early childhood when he escaped the Nazi holocaust in Poland, Polanski’s life has appeared, like his movies, to hover precariously on the brink of tragedy.
“I am shocked that any man of seventy-six, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion,” said best-selling British writer Robert Harris who worked with Polanski making his book The Ghost into a film.
“[The French culture minister] profoundly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already known so many during his life, which has bubbled with spirit and creativity,” the statement from his ministry said.
Born Raymond Polanski to Polish-Jewish parents on August 18 1933, he spent the first three years of his life in Paris before the family returned to Poland.
When the Germans sealed off the Jewish ghetto in Krakow in 1940, his father shouted to Roman to run and he escaped. His mother later died in an Auschwitz gas chamber.
His first full-length feature film after graduation, Knife in the Water, won awards and, most important for Polanski, was his ticket to the West.
As his reputation grew — first with Repulsion, his study of a woman terrified by sex who becomes a psychotic murderer, and then with the absurdist masterpiece Cul de Sac — Polanski developed a taste for the high life and beautiful women.
In 1974 Polanski had another major Hollywood success with Chinatown, a stylish thriller starring Nicholson, but his private life stayed unsettled as he drifted between Paris, Rome and Los Angeles and embarked on numerous short-lived affairs.
In 2003, he won the Oscar for The Pianist.
“I am widely regarded, I know, as an evil, profligate dwarf,” Polanski wrote in his autobiography. “My friends — and the women in my life — know better.” – Reuters