Amid Protests, Roman Polanski Wins Best Director at France’s Oscars

LONDON — Roman Polanski, the film director who fled the United States in 1978 while awaiting sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old, was a big winner Friday night at the Césars, France’s equivalent of the Academy Awards, despite outrage over his nominations.

He was named best director for “J’accuse” (The English title: “An Officer and a Spy”) about Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish military officer wrongly convicted of treason in what remains France’s most notorious miscarriage of justice.

The film won two other awards, having led the nominations with 12, the most of any movie. Mr. Polanski was given the award for best adapted screenplay along with Robert Harris, the British novelist. The movie also won for best costume design. It was nominated for the best film award, but that honor went to “Les Misérables,” a crime drama that shows the harsh reality of life in Paris’s immigrant-heavy suburbs.

“Very few” people applauded Mr. Polanski’s best director award, said Le Monde, the French newspaper, and some stars walked out.

Mr. Polanski was not there to collect any of the prizes. He announced on Thursday that he would not attend the ceremony because he feared a “public lynching” from protesters outside, angered at his links to child sexual abuse.

“We know how this evening will unfold already,” Mr. Polanksi said in a statement. “What place can there be in such deplorable conditions for a film about the defense of truth, the fight for justice, blind hate and anti-Semitism?”

Mr. Polanski pulled out of the 2017 awards for the same reason.

Credit…Thomas Samson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Friday, the French police fired tear gas outside the Paris concert hall hosting the César Film Awards in a clash with people protesting the director, according to local news reports. Protesters also pulled down a safety barrier outside the venue, but the police pushed them back, so they did not make it onto the red carpet.

Other demonstrators waved placards reading, “Shame on an industry that protects rapists.”

The United States considers Mr. Polanski a fugitive of justice but has been unable to secure his extradition. He has also faced other accusations of sexual assault. In November, Valentine Monnier, a photographer, accused Mr. Polanski of raping her in 1975, when she was 18, in a ski chalet in Switzerland. He has denied the accusations.

Reviewers praised “J’accuse” at the Venice Film Festival last year. “The longer you look at it, the more impressive it grows,” Xan Brooks wrote in The Guardian. It won similar acclaim in France after its release in November, and the film topped the country’s box office. But it was also met with protests, and some in France’s film industry distanced themselves from Mr. Polanski.

After the César nominations were announced in January, a host of French feminist organizations said they would protest the ceremony. “If rape is an art, give Polanski all the Césars,” they said in an open letter published in a leading newspaper.

Adèle Haenel, one of France’s most prominent young actresses who said she had suffered from sexual abuse in the country’s film industry, also complained this month about his nominations.

“Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims,” she told The New York Times. “It means raping women isn’t that bad.”

Ms. Haenel walked out of the room at the César ceremony after Mr. Polanski won best director, waved an arm in disgust and appeared to say, “It’s a shame.”

Mr. Polanski’s decision to withdraw from this year’s award ceremony didn’t ease the controversy. On Friday morning, Franck Riester, France’s culture minister, said in a television interview that if Mr. Polanski won best director at the Césars, it would be “a bad symbol given we must all be aware of the need to fight against sexual violence and sexism.”

But Mr. Riester said he would be happy for “J’accuse” to win best film. There was “no need to penalize the team” for Mr. Polanski’s behavior, he said.

The film’s first award of the night was for best costume designer. But the winner, Pascaline Chavanne, was not present to collect her trophy. The entire cast and production team had shunned the event over criticism aimed at their director.

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