Roman Polanski wins best director at Cesars, prompting walkout protest

Controversy has swirled around the inclusion of the French-Polish director, who faces a rape conviction in the United States and other sexual assault accusations

Feminist groups attend a protest against film director Roman Polanski near the venue for the Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris, France, on Friday, February 28. Reuters
Feminist groups attend a protest against film director Roman Polanski near the venue for the Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris, France, on Friday, February 28. Reuters

Roman Polanski cast a shadow over France's Cesar Awards on Friday even as he won best directing for his film An Officer and a Spy, with several women in the audience walking out in protest at honouring a man facing rape accusations.

The French-Polish director's dozen nominations had divided opinion in France, a country where the #MeToo movement that inspired women globally to out powerful men for sexual misconduct has struggled to gain traction.

Polanski, 86, whose film also picked up awards for best adaptation and best costume designer, stayed away from the event, saying he feared he would be lynched.

Controversy had swirled around inclusion in the awards programme of Polanski, who fled the United States for France in the late 1970s after being convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl, and faces more recent allegations of sexual assault.

Polanski denies the latest accusations against him.

Emmanuelle Bercot and Claire Denis accept the Best Director Award on behalf of Roman Polanski for the film 'J'accuse (An Officer and A Spy) during the 45th Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris, France, on Friday, February 28. Reuters
Emmanuelle Bercot and Claire Denis accept the Best Director Award on behalf of Roman Polanski for the film 'J'accuse (An Officer and A Spy) during the 45th Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris, France, on Friday, February 28. Reuters

During the ceremony, the biggest night on the French cinema calendar, Polanski served as both lightning rod and punch line, with the ceremony's host quipping about paedophilia.

"It is the last (event) of one era and the first of another,"actress Sandrine Kiberlain said.

Among those who left the venue early was leading actress Adele Haenel, who last year revealed she had been sexually abused as a child by another director.

Haenel told the New York Times before the ceremony that France had "missed the boat" on #MeToo and criticised the Cesar Awards for recognising Polanski.

"Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims. It means raping women isn't that bad," she said.

Protesters outside clashed with police shortly before the biggest names in French film arrived at the Pleynel concert hall, but none made it onto the red carpet. Nearby, other protesters peacefully waved placards reading "Shame on an industry that protects rapists."

It is the second time in five months that recognition of Polanski, who was expelled last year from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - which bestows the Oscars - has prompted disquiet.

Organisers of the Venice Film Festival drew criticism for including Polanski's work in the programme. It went on to take the festival's Silver Lion Grand Jury in September.

The French awards come in the same week that Harvey Weinstein, once one of Hollywood’s most influential producers, was convicted of sexual assault and rape by a New York court.

Published: February 29, 2020 10:51 AM

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