A stunning development in a decades-long legal drama: Roman Polanski has been arrested in Zurich an may face extradition to the U.S. Polanski fled to France in 1978 after pleading guilty to having non-consensual sex with a 13-year-old girl the previous year. He has lived and worked in France ever since. At the time of his arrest, Polanski was en route to the Zurich Film Festival which had plans to honor him.
It's hard to talk about Polanski without raising the tempers of both those still appalled he never served time for his crime—he was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl he'd been photographing and supplying with champagne and a portion of a Quaalude and later pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse—and those who note the legal complexities of the case. On the latter side: those who point to a judge on the verge of reneging on a plea agreement and the fact that the victim herself has repeatedly stated she'd like to put the matter to rest. (Marina Zenovich's 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired is an essential accounting of all the elements in play.) On the former: Well, that's a pretty horrific crime to go unpunished and tough to square any sense of justice with Polanski's subsequent decades of freedom and a career kept afloat by a culture of admirers collectively willing to look the other way.
It's always thorny, and not always productive, trying to reconcile art with the artist. Polanski has lived a life burdened with more tragedy than most lives. Polanski took terrible advantage of a girl unable to defend herself and stuck in a situation way over her head.Polanski made great films before and after the crime. All those elements remain true. None of them cancel out one another.