Zurich: Film director Roman Polanski, whose turbulent life has come close to resembling the violent, perverse world of his movies, was arrested in Switzerland on a 1978 US arrest warrant for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old.
Polanski, 76, had been due to receive a prize for his life’s work at the Zurich Film Festival on Sunday evening, opening a retrospective of his film career but was arrested on arrival at Zurich airport on Saturday night.
Calling Polanski, who won best director Oscar for The Pianist in 2003, one of the greatest film directors of our time, the festival directors said they had “received this news with great consternation and shock”.
Polanski’s Los Angeles agent and the US embassy in Zurich were not immediately available for comment.
Zurich Cantonal police spokesman Stefan Oberlin said Polanski’s arrest had been carried out on instructions from the federal justice department in Berne.
Polanski was arrested in the United States in the late 1970s and charged with giving drugs and alcohol to a 13-year-old girl and having unlawful sex with her at a photographic shoot at Jack Nicholson’s Hollywood home.
Maintaining the girl was sexually experienced and had consented, Polanski spent 42 days in prison undergoing psychiatric tests but fled the country before being sentenced.
Considered by US authorities as a fugitive from justice, Polanski, whose films include Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, has lived in France avoiding countries that have extradition treaties with the United States.
Few lives have turned into the macabre public spectacle that Polanski’s has, first after the gruesome murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate in 1969 by the Charles Manson murder gang, and again eight years later when he was arrested for the statutory rape of the 13-year-old girl.
But few directors have laid bare their inner fantasies and fears like Polanski in films such as Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant—films of disturbing brutality shot through with voyeurism and dark humour.
From early childhood when he escaped the Nazi holocaust in Poland, Polanski’s life has appeared, like his movies, to hover precariously on the brink of tragedy.
Born Raymond Polanski to Polish-Jewish parents on 18 August 1933, he spent the first three years of his life in Paris before the family returned to Poland.
When the Germans sealed off the Jewish ghetto in Krakow in 1940, his father shouted out to Polanski to run and he escaped. His mother later died in an Auschwitz gas chamber.
His first full-length feature film after graduation, Knife in the Water, won awards and, most important for Polanski, was his ticket to the West.
As his reputation grew—first with Repulsion, his study of a woman terrified by sex who becomes a psychotic murderer, and then with the absurdist masterpiece Cul de Sac—Polanski developed a taste for the high life and beautiful women.
In 1974 Polanski had another major Hollywood success with Chinatown, a stylish thriller starring Nicholson, but his private life stayed unsettled as he drifted between Paris, Rome and Los Angeles and embarked on numerous short-lived affairs.
In 2003, he won the Oscar for The Pianist.
“I am widely regarded, I know, as an evil, profligate dwarf,” Polanski wrote in his autobiography. “My friends—and the women in my life—know better.”