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The Lens: Why continue to go after Roman Polanski?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 28, 2009 - I don't condone the behavior that landed Roman Polanski in front of a judge more than 30 years ago, but given the circumstances, his arrest in Switzerland over the weekend is an appalling and petty act on the part of authorities both there and in the U.S.

For those who don't remember the sordid details, Polanski, the Polish-born director of "Knife in the Water," "Repulsion," "Chinatown" and many other films, was arrested in Los Angeles in 1978 for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He entered a guilty plea but fled the country when he began to suspect that the judge was not going to honor a plea-bargain made with his lawyers.

In recent years, Polanski has tried to get the sentence overturned, but the Justice Department, while admitting that there were indications of inappropriate acts on the part of the original judge, rejected his appeal. The victim, now 45, has publicly asked for charges to be dropped, claiming that the continued publicity regarding the case has been emotionally damaging.

Polanski, who has lived in Europe for the past 30 years, has continued to make films, winning an Academy Award in 2003 for "The Pianist." He was in Switzerland to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival when police arrested him on the basis of an alert issued four years ago by the United States. Why didn't the folks in Zurich know that an arrest was possible if Polanski visited their festival? Why didn't Polanski or his lawyers?

As I stated earlier, Polanski's actions cannot be excused. Nor do I fully agree with those who would make Polanski a victim, citing his own tragic past. But after so many years and so many investigations, who benefits from putting the 76-year-old director at the center of a 32-year-old media circus?

The Lens is the blog of Cinema St. Louis, hosted by the Beacon.