A Teacup in a Storm: Polanski & the Cesar Awards

This is a brief personal opinion piece about the stormy controversy over Roman Polanski’s Best Director win at the Cesar Awards for his film, AN OFFICER AND A SPY (2019).

It’s a complicated problem – but my gripe is not with Polanski winning Best Director but the Cesars denying a more worthy candidate the prize.

Polanski has already won the Cesar for Best Director four times, and this fifth win won’t mean much to him (he has won much more prestigious awards throughout his career, some deservedly of course), plus his AN OFFICER AND A SPY isn’t even one of the best French films of the year, nor is it one of his strongest works.

While I feel that a film like his still deserves several Cesar nominations, what I don’t understand is why in this #MeToo climate, that the Cesars would still conspire to add fuel to the fire by majorly voting for Polanski over the likes of Francois Ozon (who hasn’t won any Cesar in his entire career), Celine Sciamma or Ladj Ly, all of whom made far more accomplished films in BY THE GRACE OF GOD, PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, and LES MISERABLES, respectively.

So, to me it is not just a Polanski problem, but a French systemic problem in which the Cesars is symptomatic of. There needs to be some deeper soul-searching within the system that protected Polanski for decades.

In the bigger picture, some of the French public did support Polanski’s film at the box-office. In fact, it is his biggest opening in France in many, many years. But whether that is a good or bad thing, nobody should be in any position to judge.

After all, filmmaking is a collaborative effort and there might have been dispassionate people who worked on the film who did so because they simply needed to earn a living. Who are we then to raise our pitchforks and demand “let’s not support it because a certain so and so was like that in the past”.

Lastly, Polanski absolutely deserves to be punished for his crimes in the past – the fact that people still feel that he is not sufficiently punished is perhaps more indicative of deeper systemic problems in relation to law and justice, than the man’s crimes per se, which are already disgusting enough.

However, I also staunchly believe in separating the man from the artist. In fact, I look forward to seeing whatever he does next, that is, if the system continues to create conditions that allow him to make films – and if he is allowed to, why should he stop creating as an artist? And why should I stop critiquing his films?

That being said, I would still be the first one to send him to prison if I had that kind of power. Polanski’s a fascinating figure to say the least – he’s to me a master of cinema who somehow has yet to serve his jail sentence. He created his own problem, but the problem is and has always been so much bigger than him.

3 Comments

  1. I know we have differing opinions on whether the artist should be separated from the art, but I’m glad you don’t excuse Polanski’s actions. You brought up a similar point when I talked to another reviewer about how films are collaborative efforts when we had a debate of sorts involving a certain movie that plagiarized an old-school anime among doing other bad things. I do think the #MeToo era has been quite selective when it comes to who gets shamed and/or imprisoned, but Polanski deserves to serve time for his crimes though.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Yes, I agree – no matter how much I admire his works, I would be the first one to send him to prison if I had that kind of power (and maybe still give him a camera to shoot his sufferings in jail – after all people do give criminals an outlet to create art while imprisoned e.g. painting, writing pottery, etc). But the French law and justice system is the real problem I feel, which bleeds down symptomatically to the Cesar Awards.

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      Reply

      1. Sure thing. It can be so frustrating seeing someone who was dead to rights in committing a heinous crime, but got away from being sentenced. There are innocent people in jail or those who have been serving decades for petty things which makes my blood boil. I really wondered about the French justice system and if they’re low-key protecting him from being tried in America.

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