Polanski misses Berlin accolade, trapped in his gilded, Alpine home
Swiss authorities have refused the film director permission to travel to Germany
Sunday 07 February 2010
On clear winter nights, from his chalet 3,400 feet up in the Alps of Switzerland's Berner Oberland, Roman Polanski is afforded spectacular views of a star-studded heaven forming the backdrop to a breathtaking mountain panorama heavy with snow. It is the reason, no doubt, why his holiday home of 30 years is called "Milky Way".
Yet "Milky Way" on Alpenblickstrasse, Gstaad – a winding road in the Swiss ski resort famed for its super-rich celebrity population – is as close to experiencing the stars as Polanski will get when his latest movie The Ghost Writer premieres at the Berlin film festival on Wednesday.
Despite intense lobbying with the Swiss justice authorities, the organisers of the Berlin festival have been unable to secure the 24 hours of remission for Polanski that would enable the Polish director to attend the premiere of his political thriller based on the Robert Harris novel, The Ghost.
"He won't be coming and there will be no videotaped message," said Dieter Kosslick, the festival's organiser who spoke to Polanski by phone last week. "But he thanked me for picking his film," he added ruefully.
Instead the film-maker will remain electronically tethered to his mountain retreat. He will probably watch the stars arriving in Berlin and the press conference given after his film's premiere on satellite television. It will be a humiliating and depressing experience for the 76-year-old.
Polanski has been under house arrest for the past two months. He was unexpectedly detained by police while on his way to the Zurich film festival to collect an award in recognition of his life's work last September. He was released from custody in December.
His arrest has been seen as an attempt by Switzerland to curry favour with the US over banking regulations. The Swiss authorities acted on the basis of an arrest warrant dealing with a crime committed more than 30 years ago. It was issued by a Los Angeles court after Polanski fled the US in 1978 while awaiting sentencing for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Polanski had been on the run from US justice ever since. His hopes that his case could be tried in absentia were crushed last month, when the presiding LA judge ruled that he had to be present at the trial. Even his former victim, Samantha Geimer, now 45, had used her lawyers in a failed attempt to convince the judge to change his mind.
What happens now is unclear. The US is pressing for Polanski's extradition, but his lawyers say they will fight any order. Last week Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Switzerland's justice minister, said it could take a year before the director's fate was decided. "Even if the Swiss justice ministry agrees to grant extradition Mr Polanski can appeal to the Federal Penal Court and then the Federal Court. It could take several months to a year," she said.
Polanski now faces the prospect of months of protracted isolation. The Swiss authorities have granted him bail of 4.5m Swiss francs, around £3m, but only on condition that he surrenders his French passport and wears an electronic monitoring tag on his ankle. But the film-maker has to pay the equivalent of 70 Swiss francs a month in telephone bills for the privilege because the device is linked to a police computer via phone lines.
It is difficult to know how Polanski is faring. His chalet was staked out by the press in the days following the start of his house arrest. He refused to say anything. Nowadays requests for an interview, shoved in the mail box at Alpenblickstrasse 12, meet with a politely written card a few days latter saying. "Thank you for your interest. I am sorry but you will understand that I am not giving interviews at the moment."
Roger Seifriz, the head of the local tourist board is clearly terrified that the negative publicity given to Polanski will upset Gstaad's super rich including the likes of fashion designer Valentino, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, actors Sean Connery and Roger Moore, and model Elle Macpherson. In an open letter published in the local newspaper, he appealed to residents to stop answering journalists' questions.
Polanski, who also has a home in Paris, used to stroll down to the baker's down the hill from his chalet every morning to pick up croissants. Nowadays his wife of 20 years, the film actress Emmanuelle Seigner has to do the bread run. If Polanski were to step outside it would set off an alarm at police HQ. "He was always cheerful. We wonder when he will be back again," says the baker. Polanski's children, Morgane and Elvis, are still at school in Paris.
The director has nevertheless managed to keep working. He completed The Ghost Writer in the Gstaad chalet, where he has a cutting room and internet access. From his windows he can look out towards his favourite ski slopes on the Eggli mountain on the other side of the valley. He used to take his actor friend Jack Nicholson for lunch at the mountain restaurant on its slopes. He can't do that anymore.
Polanski's love affair with Gstaad began in the Sixties, when the Alpine village was fast becoming the playground of famous British Hollywood stars, such as David Niven, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Peter Sellers, Joan Collins and Roger Moore.
It is also the winter home of the elite Le Rosey Swiss finishing school, girls from which Polanski has admitted to entertaining at his chalet after the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate in 1969. "They played a therapeutic role in my life. They were all between 16 and 19 years old," he wrote in his memoirs. Charges of rape and sodomy were to follow eight years later.
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