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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 March, 2003, 10:55 GMT
Polanski's success against the odds
Roman Polanski
Polanski's Oscars success comes after an excellent year
Director Roman Polanski's chances of winning the best director prize for The Pianist seemed remote last week.

Polanski, charged with unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, in 1977 left the country hours before he was due to be sentenced after pleading guilty. He fled to France, fearing a jail sentence of up to 50 years, and has never been back in the US since.

Polanski's shame cast a shadow over his reputation in the US and made his chances of success seem slight.

While the Academy had often welcomed controversy, it was thought Polanski's situation was too serious for them to allow him victory.

Add to that the ignominy of a major Oscar going to a winner who could not actually turn up to receive it.

Police had said they would arrest the director if he turned up in Los Angeles for the event.

Elsewhere in the world The Pianist, the story of Warsaw Jew fighting for survival amidst Nazi atrocities, had emerged as one of the most critically lauded films of the last 12 months.

Surprise nomination

The film, starring Adrien Brody, won the Palm d'Or at Cannes, Cesars and Goyas in France and Spain, and the best director and best film awards at the Baftas just last month.

But there was still surprise when The Pianist, a film mirroring the 69-year-old director's own wartime experiences, was nominated for best film and best director awards alongside Hollywood favourites such as The Hours and Gangs of New York.

Since then there has been a remarkable contest between those wanting to rehabilitate the director and those wanting to make sure he walked away from the Oscars empty-handed.

Adrien Brody in The Pianist
Adrien Brody won the best actor Oscar for his performance

Court documents from Polanski's 1978 trial appeared on the internet only days before the Oscar voting finished.

Some claimed it was part of a smear campaign from a rival studio intent on scuppering the Polish-born director's chances of winning.

"You have to look at who has the motivation to place these kinds of stories," Stephen Gaydos of film magazine Variety said when the documents were released.

"Journalists don't need any motivation other than being journalists to come up with these stories. But now its happening to two of the Oscar contenders," he said.

Polanski forgiven

But an unlikely supporter for Polanski emerged in the form of Samantha Geimer, the woman who had been indecently assaulted by Polanski 25 years ago.

In a piece written for the Los Angeles Times in February, Geimer, now 39, urged the Academy to judge "the movie and not the man".

She said the Academy's voters should vote for him if they thought he was the best director, and not be dissuaded by his crime. She said she had forgiven him.

"What he does for a living and how good he is at it have nothing to do with me or what he did to me . . . I think academy members should vote for the movies they feel deserve it. Not the people they feel are popular," she said.

The win marks an important milestone in Polanski's career, but it would be wrong to assume his win guarantees an end to his problems in the US.

"I thought it was an astonishing decision, completely off the cards," said Ian Freer, associate editor of British film magazine Empire.

"But I don't think there's going to be 'rehabilitation'. It is a very liberal Hollywood establishment, and I don't think that elsewhere in the US he will have quite the same support. I don't think the goodwill extends that far."

The Hollywood heavy-hitters who gave Polanski a standing ovation reflect the more liberal attitudes of the entertainment industry.

But it is not Polanski's peers who will be deciding whether his charges will be quashed.


SEE ALSO:
Polanski's Oscar hopes 'hit'
13 Mar 03 |  Entertainment
Polanski victim urges focus
24 Feb 03 |  Entertainment
Polanski takes top Baftas
23 Feb 03 |  Entertainment
Pianist sweeps French awards
23 Feb 03 |  Entertainment


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