Polanski controversy casts shadow at Cannes
The controversy surrounding filmmaker Roman Polanski hung over the Cannes Film Festival Saturday after fresh allegations that the increasingly divisive fugitive director abused a minor.
One of Polanski's most prominent defenders, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, rejected the new allegations by British actress Charlotte Lewis, while Cannes Film Festival president Gilles Jacob said no one was above the law.
Polanski, who is fighting extradition to the United States to face sentencing in a 1978 child sex case, was accused Friday by Lewis, now age 42, of abusing her just after her 16th birthday.
"I am also a victim of Roman Polanski. He sexually abused me in the worst possible way when I was just 16 years old," Lewis said in a prepared statement at a Beverly Hills press conference with her lawyer.
"Mr. Polanski knew I was only 16 years old when he met me and forced himself upon me in his apartment in Paris. He took advantage of me and I have lived with the effects of his behaviour ever since it occurred," she said.
"All I want is justice," added Lewis, best known for her leading role opposite Eddie Murphy in the 1986 adventure comedy "The Golden Child."
Polanski, 76, is currently under house arrest in Switzerland where he is fighting extradition in his 1977 case.
He is alleged to have given 13-year-old Samantha Geimer champagne and drugs during a 1977 photo shoot at the Hollywood Hills home of actor friend Jack Nicholson before having sex with her despite her protests.
The director was initially charged with six felony counts, including rape and sodomy. The charge was later reduced to unlawful sexual intercourse after a plea deal agreed in part to spare his victim the ordeal of a trial.
Polanski later served 42 days at a secure unit undergoing psychiatric evaluation but fled the United States on the eve of his sentencing in 1978 amid fears that the trial judge planned to go back on a previously agreed plea deal.
Levy, a staunch supporter of Polanski, said Lewis' allegations did not change his views one bit.
"This doesn't change my position and my anger at the methods used by California courts," Levy told AFP on Saturday.
One of Polanski's defence attorneys Georges Kiejman told French news channel i-Tele he was "absolutely astonished" by Lewis's allegations, and that if she repeated them "it is probable that we take her to court".
Kiejman said he found it "quite disturbing" that Lewis appeared in Polanski's 1986 period flop "Pirates" three years after the director allegedly forced himself upon the actress.
Another of Polanski's lawyers, Herve Timime, was more direct in challenging Lewis' credibility: "Everything that has been said is a web of lies."
Lewis's attorney, Gloria Allred, said the actress was speaking out to counter suggestions from Polanski's legal team that his earlier case was an isolated incident.
Levy's drive to rally support for Polanski suffered a setback on Friday when Hollywood star Michael Douglas said he would not sign a petition against his extradition.
In Cannes to promote Oliver Stone's "Wall Street -- Money Never Sleeps", Douglas told French radio station RTL that despite his fondness for Polanski, it would not be right for him as an American to sign a petition in favour of someone who had broken the law and "jumped bail."
The festival president meanwhile tried to calm the speculation and distance the festival from the controversy.
"There is the filmmaker and the citizen. The filmmaker is a great filmmaker. There is the citizen. No one is above the law," Jacob told RTL on Saturday.
"It is not for us -- one does not know the case -- it is not for us to judge," he said.
The Polanski case was not mentioned during press conferences by filmmakers Mike Leigh and Woody Allen on Saturday and Leigh declined to comment on the case in an interview with AFP.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy inquired about the case of Polanski, who is a French and Polish national, during a phone conversation Friday with his Swiss counterpart Doris Leuthard.
"Federal President Leuthard also informed the French President about the state of extradition proceedings in the case of the United States against Roman Polanski," her office said in a statement Saturday.
© 2010 AFP