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 U.S. warrant for having sex with a 13-year-old. Polanski, reached a plea deal, but was threatened with more prison time than previously agreed upon and fled to France before he was formally sentenced.
Polanski, 76, was due to receive a prize for his life’s work at the Zurich Film Festival, opening a retrospective of his distinguished film career, but he was arrested at the airport upon his arrival in Switzerland on Saturday night.
Polanski’s seminal suspense and horror films in the late ’60s, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, marked a new era in filmmaking, highlighting deeply psychological and taboo subjects such as incest and Satanism. Polanski would go on to direct classic, award-winning films like 1975’s Chinatown and 2002’s The Pianist.
The legal proceedings around Polanski heated up again in late 2008 with the release of a documentary film, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which detailed claims of judicial and prosecutorial wrongdoing at the time of the director’s original arrest.
Citing the film and other evidence, Polanski’s lawyers asked in December 2008 that the case against him be dismissed.
Mr. Polanski has been careful to avoid certain countries, but has traveled freely in Europe for decades, in part to direct films.
Meanwhile, Poland and France intend to make a joint appeal to Switzerland and the United States to have Polanski released from his detention, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told the Polish news agency PAP. Sikorski said he and French counterpart Bernard Kouchner also plan to ask Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to offer Polanski clemency.
In Paris, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was ''dumbfounded'' by Polanski's arrest, adding that he ''strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.''
Those comments referred, in part, to the fact that Polanski, a native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, escaped Kraków's Jewish ghetto as a child during World War II and lived off the charity of strangers. His mother died at the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp.
Polanski worked his way into filmmaking in Poland, gaining an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film in 1964 for his Knife in the Water, which offered his entry to Hollywood.
His life was shattered again in 1969 when his wife, actress Sharon Tate, and four other people were gruesomely murdered in Los Angeles by followers of cult figure Charles Manson. Tate was eight months pregnant at the time.