First, the international warrant on which Polanski was arrested was issued in 2005. The man has been on the lam since 1977. So why now? Why was he arrested while trying to enter Switzerland now? It’s not as if he’s been in hiding; he’s been traveling all over Europe for more than three decades.
The one thing that has changed recently is the relationship between Switzerland and the United States. After years of pressure, the Swiss recently caved to US demands to release the names associated with an unspecified number of its off-the-grid bank accounts. I say “unspecified” because not only is the number of names to be released not specified, nothing about the deal is. It’s been kept completely under wraps.
Then, a month later, the Swiss execute a stale old warrant for a man who’s been walking around with the same name, the same face all over Europe for years. Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe this is an act of contrition by Switzerland in an attempt to cozy up to Washington after the bank-accounts scrap. Or maybe it’s even a part of the secret Swiss-US deal — some clause in there that mandates Switzerland strictly enforce US-issued warrants. The question that I’m asking is: To what extent is Roman Polanski now a political prisoner?
Secondly, I can’t help but wonder how Polanski’s film career would have gone had he not indulged his basest instincts that night in 1977. For three decades he’s been in exile from Hollywood. Major names like Harrison Ford and Johnny Depp have had to go to him, not the other way around.
“Exile is a natural movement, something that, in its own way, helps to abolish fate,” says a character in Bolano’s 2666 — by which he means that being in exile effectively robs you of your ability to get anything meaningful done. Yet, France is Polanski’s first home, and he has somehow thrived on the other side of the pond, making gems like Frantic and Death and the Maiden and The Pianist.
So imagine how his career would have gone if he wasn’t cut off from Hollywood. What would have followed Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown? How many seminal cultural masterpieces would he have directed in the decades since? I wonder if Polanski asks himself that question.
Lastly, his life story is remarkable. Born to Polish-Jewish parents, he lost his mother to the Holocaust; he lost his pregnant wife to Charles Manson’s murderous rampage in 1969. Then the underage-sex charges and three decades of exile; now this.
Europe seems to be rallying around Polanski; in law-and-order America, there’s little appetite for defending a kiddie-diddler. That debate will play out on both sides of the pond in the coming weeks and months. Polanski may or may not be a political prisoner, but his fight against extradition to the United States will almost certainly be political.