Venice: Roman Polanski’s wife said “persecution” in his films echoed his turbulent life, ahead of the premiere yesterday of the director’s new historical thriller at Venice in a cloud of controversy.
Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy, about French Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus, has been a lightning rod for criticism of the film festival, already embroiled in a second year of controversy over the place of female filmmakers.
The 86-year-old director, who has been a fugitive from the US since he was convicted for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old in 1978, was not due to appear for the screening of the film.
But his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner who stars in the film, said that his experiences had coloured his filmmaking.
“The feeling of persecution, I think is quite simple to understand. It is enough to see his life,” she said.
Venice festival organisers have been forced to defend the decision to include An Officer and a Spy among the 21 movies selected to compete for the top prize. Only two films in the running are directed by women.
Critics have said it is out of touch in the era of #MeToo movement.
But Polanski, an Oscar-winning director of The Pianist and Chinatown, has hit back, releasing an interview with French writer Pascal Bruckner in which he dismissed new abuse claims against him.
He said these were “absurd stories by women I have never seen before in my life who accuse me of things which supposedly happened more than half a century ago”.
The director said he had been hounded since the horrific murder of his wife Shanon Tate, who was killed by members of the Manson family cult in 1969.
He also drew a parallel with his film, which traces the history of the late 19th century Dreyfus Affair – the wrongful conviction of a Jewish officer against a backdrop of virulent anti-Semitism.
“In the story, I sometimes find moments I have experienced myself, I can see the same determination to deny the facts and condemn me for things I have not done. Most of the people who harass me do not know me and know nothing about the case,” Polanski said.
At the Press conference yesterday one of the producers, Luca Barbareschi, called for the controversy over Polanski not to overshadow the message of the movie, adding that the festival was not a “moral trial”.
“The film must be allowed to speak,” he said.
An Officer and a Spy, written by British novelist Robert Harris but filmed in French, stars The Artist Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin as the counter-espionage officer who proved that Dreyfus had been wrongly accused of spying for Germany.
The Dreyfus scandal sent shockwaves through France when it burst into the open with explosive newspaper revelations by the writer Emile Zola published under the headline “J’accuse” (I accuse), which is the film’s title in French.
The case divided France for more than a decade from 1894 and exposed an establishment laced with prejudice.