September 30, 2009 / 11:20 PM / 10 years ago

French support softens for Polanski, Hollywood divided

PARIS/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Film director Roman Polanski, arrested earlier this week in Switzerland, saw support weaken on Wednesday for his effort to evade sentencing in the United States in the rape of a 13-year-old girl three decades ago.

Director Roman Polanski exits the Santa Monica Courthouse after a hearing in his sexual assault case in Santa Monica, California October 24, 1977. REUTERS/Chris Gulker/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in New York that Polanski’s extradition from Switzerland to California to face sentencing on the 1977 sex crime charge was a matter for judges, not diplomats, to handle.

Polanski, 76, was in a Swiss jail after his arrest there four days ago during a visit from his French home.

In France, the government changed its passionate protests about Polanski’s arrest to a more measured stance and described the charges as serious. A French government spokesman said the “Chinatown” director was “neither above nor below the law.”

Major U.S. newspapers called on the Oscar winner to account for the crime, and commentators said U.S. public opinion was running strongly against Polanski. Few in the cinema world in Hollywood and Europe stepped forward on Wednesday to join his supporters.

Polanski, 76, was arrested in Switzerland over the weekend and his lawyers say he will fight extradition to the United States where he faces a possible jail sentence for pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor in 1977, after first plying her with champagne and tranquilizers.

The director fled the United States fearing a California judge would renege on his initial plea deal, which would have set the director free after spending 42 days in detention while awaiting trial, and instead send him back to prison for years.

Polanski’s arrest first drew outrage in Europe’s diplomatic and artistic quarters. Around 100 mostly European artists have signed an online French cinema industry petition demanding Polanksi’s release, and U.S. directors Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and David Lynch have joined in.


But support in Europe and Hollywood appears to be eroding. Along with the French government’s new focus on strictly legal matters, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Tuesday said that while Polanski should be offered consular help, ministers need not get involved in the extradition battle.

“The case involves a great director but still, it is also a case of rape, of sex with a child,” Tusk said.

French director Luc Besson told RTL radio he liked Polanski but was unsure about the case. “I have great deal of affection for him, he’s a man I like a lot, who I know a bit...I don’t know anything about this case but I think if you don’t show up for a trial, you put yourself in the wrong. I don’t have any judgement to make on this but it’s true, I have a daughter, she’s 13 and if she were raped, I wouldn’t think quite the same thing, even 30 years later,” Besson said.

In Hollywood, influential movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s call earlier this week for U.S. filmmakers to lobby against Polanski’s extradition has fallen on many deaf ears.

There has been only silence from some of Polanski’s oldest friends, including actor Jack Nicholson who appeared in 1974’s “Chinatown” and at whose home the rape occurred.

Actress Whoopi Goldberg provoked online fury after saying she didn’t consider the sex incident to be rape in the strict sense of the word. “It was something, but I don’t believe it was rape-rape,” Goldberg said on TV chat show “The View.”

Editorials in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times said Polanski, 76, should return to account for his crime.

The newspapers dismissed arguments by “The Pianist” director’s supporters about his Oscar-winning body of work and the tragic 1969 murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by followers of cult leader Charles Manson.

“This case has nothing to do with Mr Polanski’s work or his age. It is about an adult preying on a child. Mr Polanski pleaded guilty to that crime and must account for it,” The New York Times said.

Los Angeles Times entertainment reporter Patrick Goldstein wrote that his mail was now “about 100-1 against Polanski.”

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Sophie Hardach in Paris; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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