César awards furore over Polanski

Academy board resign as ceremony looms

by Richard Mowe

Jean Dujardin as Colonel Picquart and Louis Garrel as Albert Dreyfus in An Officer And A Spy
Jean Dujardin as Colonel Picquart and Louis Garrel as Albert Dreyfus in An Officer And A Spy Photo: Unifrance
The culmination of a row over Roman Polanski's An Officer And A Spy (J'Accuse) that has been simmering for weeks has resulted in the entire board of the French César awards (the equivalent of the Oscars) resigning only two weeks before the ceremony is due to be held in Paris on 28 February.

The board had lost the confidence of its members including 400 producers, directors, actors and other film professionals who published an open letter demanding that the César Academy, which runs the awards, reform “the opaqueness of its processes and its dysfunction".

Roman Polanski: 'My work is not therapy. However, I must admit that I am familiar with many of the workings of the apparatus of persecution shown in the film, and that has clearly inspired me'
Roman Polanski: 'My work is not therapy. However, I must admit that I am familiar with many of the workings of the apparatus of persecution shown in the film, and that has clearly inspired me' Photo: Unifrance
The catalyst for the row was in part due to the severe criticism of the 12 nominations bestowed on Polanski’s film - already released to controversy in France - although its box office take of 1.5 million ticket sales indicated audiences were not inclined to shun the production. The film, about the celebrated case of Albert Dreyfus (a French army officer accused of spying and unjustly convicted) won the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival. The inclusion of the film in the short list was condemned by France’s equality minister, women’s groups and some film critics. Polanski has remained a target of attention since he fled from the US to France in 1978 after admitting the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. The US authorities have failed in numerous attempts to have him extradited to face the charges.

Veteran producer Alain Terzian who is head of the Academy, argued that the organisation “should not take moral positions on giving awards.” Those who oppose Polanski’s inclusion have called for a protest on the night outside the Salle Pleyel auditorium.

The Academy has pledged that a general meeting would be held shortly after this year’s ceremony to let a new board and management with a view to addressing concerns of members. One significant point of contention is the fact that only 35 per cent of its 5000 membership are women.

Among those who signed the opened letter are directors Jacques Audiard, Michel Hazanavicius, Cédric Klapisch, Claire Denis, and Bertrand Tavernier, as well as actors Bérénice Béjo, Chiara Mastroianni, Ludivine Sagnier, Karin Viard, Omar Sy and Roschdy Zem.

When asked if this film was like a catharsis for him Polanski - referencing the murder of his wife Sharon Tate by members of the Manson family - replied: "No, I don’t work like that. My work is not therapy. However, I must admit that I am familiar with many of the workings of the apparatus of persecution shown in the film, and that has clearly inspired me. The way people see me, my 'image', did indeed start to form with Sharon Tate’s death.

"When it happened, even though I was already going through a terrible time, the press got hold of the tragedy and, unsure of how to deal with it, covered it in the most despicable way, implying, among other things, that I was one of the people responsible for her murder, against a background of satanism. For them, my film Rosemary’s Baby, proved that I was in league with the devil! It lasted several months, until the police finally found the real killers, Charles Manson and his “family”.

French poster for An Officer And A Spy
French poster for An Officer And A Spy Photo: Gaumont
"All this still haunts me today. Anything and everything. It is like a snowball, each season adds another layer. 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.”

Polanski began filming An Officer And A Spy in November 2018. On his choice of Oscar-wining Jean Dujardin (The Artist) he said: "Jean seemed perfect for the role of Picquart. He looks like Picquart, he’s the same age and he’s a great actor. A film of this importance needs a star and Jean Dujardin is one – he didn’t get an Oscar for nothing. So he was a natural choice for us, we just had to see whether he was interested in the project. In fact, he was eager to do it."

  • Edinburgh arts hub Summerhall hosts a pre-César focus on Sunday 23 February with a screening of a surprise winner from last year, Guy by Alex Lutz. Clips from this year’s Best Film contenders will be screened including An Officer And A Spy, with a behind-the-scenes introduction by ex-Hollywood Reporter correspondent in Paris Shiraz Sidhva.

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