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Roman Polanski Made A Film About The Dreyfus Affair. Will Anyone Distribute It?

Since 1978, director and convicted sex offender Roman Polanski has lived as a fugitive in Europe, where he has continued to make movies.

But it seems that post #MeToo, securing distribution for Polanski’s films requires a degree of extreme discretion, even on the continent he calls home.

On May 18, the first Saturday of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Polanski’s new film, “An Officer and a Spy,” was shopped in secret to a crowd of international buyers gathered for the festival.

The embattled director was charged in 1977 with the drugging and rape of a 13-year-old girl, then pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, the lowest of the charges against him. He was not present for the talk, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which broke the newsof the event. The film’s star, Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin, appeared for the packed preview, as did the film’s producer, Alain Goldman. The pair is reported to have shown stills from the film, but it does not appear that the event was a screening.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, at least one European distribution executive who attended the presentation expressed that they would have no problem with releasing the film, despite Polanski’s fugitive status and renewed outrage of his case in the age of #MeToo. (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the presenter of the Oscars, revoked Polanski’s membership over the rape case in 2018.)

The project was previously announced under the title “J’Accuse,” the name of Emile Zola’s famed open letter response to the film’s subject, the Dreyfus Affair, an infamous anti-Semitism scandal that began in the late 19th century and concluded in 1906. Many claimed that Polanski, in making the film, appeared to be conflating his plight with that of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army who was wrongly accused of treason and subsequently spent a decade in prison, becoming a national flashpoint for bigotry in the process. After his exoneration, Dreyfus was reinstated in the French army.

In the United States, buyers appear to have little interest in the film. A distribution executive for a U.S. company who declined to attend the presentation told the Hollywood Reporter “It’s just not possible to release that film in the U.S. right now.”

Despite the reluctance of American studios, Polanski still has friends in the United States. The actress Anjelica Huston, who says she was there the night of Polanski’s crime, defended him in an interview with Vulture earlier this month.

“It’s a story that could’ve happened ten years before in England or France or Italy or Spain or Portugal, and no one would’ve heard anything about it,” Huston said of the Polanski case.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected]

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