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The Polanski Affair

France Grapples With Art’s Relationship to Ethics

Eva G​reen, Roman Polanski, and Emman​uelle Seigner at the Cannes Fi​lm Festival in Cannes, May 2017 Theodore Wood / Camera Press / Red​ux

In late February 1895, the French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus found himself at sea. Several weeks earlier, a military court had found him guilty of treason. Soldiers marched him into the courtyard of the military college, stripped his officer ribbons, and snapped his sword while cries of “Death to the Jew” swept the crowd. He was then shipped for life to Devil’s Island—thus the sea voyage—where he was condemned to solitary imprisonment for life.

Now, 125 years later, the film that boasts the most nominations for the Césars—the French equivalent of the Oscars—including Best Picture and Best Director, is J’accuse, a retelling of the Dreyfus affair. And the movie has ignited a new affaire involving yet another French Jew—the film’s director, Roman Polanski.

Since 1978, when he fled the United States while on trial for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl, Polanski has been

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