J'Accuse, Me Too: France And The Polanski Morality Play

New sexual assault accusations surfaced in France before the release of Roman Polanski's new film (titled 'J'Accuse' in French) about the Dreyfus affair of a false accusation against a French-Jewish army officer. Who is accusing who here?

Polanski's new movie comes out in the face of new accusations against the director .
Polanski's new movie comes out in the face of new accusations against the director .
Michel Guerrin


PARIS — So, do I go see An Officer and A Spy? This is the kind of question friends might ask each other based on whether a film is good or not. But in this case it's about whether doing so is "moral" given that over the past 40 years, the film's director, Roman Polanski, has been accused of sexual abuse by six different women.

Just five days before the release of the film, called J'accuse in French, a former photographer named Valentine Monnier told the daily Le Parisien that in 1975, Polanski beat and raped her at his Swiss chalet. She was 18 at the time. Polanski denies the events in question, events that, if they're true, occurred two years before he drugged, raped and sodomized Samantha Geimer, a 13-year-old girl in California.

All of this brings up the classic argument about distinguishing the man from the artist. There is a crazy amount of literature on this question, which is as old as art itself. In France, the land of creative freedom, artwork has an aura that makes it feel separate, provided of course that it's allowed, which is the case for Polanski's film. In other words, it's up to everyone individually to decide what they want to do with the artist's work.

But now, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, accusations made by French actress Adèle Haenel, and those of Valentine Monnier, that line between artist and man is blurrier than ever.

Roman Polanski at the 70th International Cannes Film Festival — Photo: Degun-Paoli/ZUMA

Polanski, who continues to be a fugitive from justice in the United States, is a case in point. In 2002, his film The Pianist —​ truly a masterpiece — received the Palme d'Or in Cannes. It also won Oscars. Since then, though, things have shifted: His work isn't censored, but it's not being celebrated as much either.

In 2017, for example, uproar over Polanski's invitation to preside over the César awards ceremony forced the filmmaker to eventually back out. The following year he was expelled from Hollywood's Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Pressure has mounted another notch with the release of An Officer and A Spy, the promotion of which was chaotic to say the least. On Nov. 12, a group of about 40 women managed to cancel a screening at the Le Champo cinema in Paris. "Polanski is a rapist," they shouted. "The cinema is guilty. The public is an accomplice."

Who is making the accusation: Zola or Polanski?

Their argument is that when it comes to Polanski, everyone in the entire film chain is guilty — from the producer and actors, to the audience. "Purchasing a seat to see An Officer and A Spy is a criminal act," says feminist activist Chloé Madesta. Laurence Rossignol, a senator with the Socialist Party, agrees. And Marlene Schiappa, France's state secretary for gender equality, insisted she wouldn't see the film.

The hashtag #boycottpolanski, in the meantime, has been trending on social media. But Coralie Miller, a spokeswoman for the organization "Osez le féminisme!" and someone on the forefront of the fight against Polanski, calls the film "necessary."

The subject of An Officer and A Spy is the Dreyfus affair, making the line between the man and the artist even more difficult to distinguish. And if Valentine Monnier has broken 40 years of silence, it's because the film's theme and French title — J'accuse ("I accuse"), also the title of an open letter penned in 1898 by writer Émile Zola — is something she just can't stomach. Who, she wants to know, is the person making the accusations? Is it Zola or Polanski?

Samantha Geimer, Polanski's sexual assault victim, at Los Angeles Superior Court on June 9, 2017. — Photo: Paul Buck/ZUMA

"Is this acceptable, under the pretext of a film with a historical subject, to hear the words "I accuse" from the person who branded you with a hot iron, while you, the victim, are forbidden from accusing him?" she asked in her Le Parisien interview.

Adding to the controversy is the way Polanski, in promoting the film, drew a parallel between the tragic fate of Dreyfus and his own story. The filmmaker recalled that he was a child survivor of the Krakow ghetto, that his mother died at Auschwitz, that his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 and that he was suspected of being involved.

But then, during a promotional appearance in Venice, answering questions from French novelist and essayist Pascal Bruckner, he made a mistake. "As a Jew chased during the war and a filmmaker persecuted by the Stalinists in Poland, will you survive today's neo-feminist McCarthyism?" Bruckner asked.

"Working, making a film like this helps me a lot," Polanski answered. "I sometimes think of moments I myself have experienced. I see the same determination to deny the facts and condemn me for things I did not do."

The public doesn't like being told what to think.

Later, promoting the film in France, Polanski tried to backtrack. But the damage was done: He'd already admitted, it seems, what many accuse him of doing: donning Dreyfus's coat to answer the rape charges.

And it's too bad, because An Officer and A Spy is a carefully crafted film, an excellent film even, and delivers a valuable message regarding anti-Semitism, which was strong at the turn of the century and is again on the rise in France today. It's one of the most political works we've seen for a long time and should be shown in the schools of France, and yet all of that is compromised in part because of who Polanski is and how he's handled himself.

Audiences, of course, can make up their own mind about the film, and based on ticket sales, reception has been positive. Some 55,000 people turned out out to see An Officer and A Spy on Nov. 13, its first day in theaters. It was Polanski's best opening day since Pirates, in 1986, and better than The Pianist.

No doubt the film's powerful subject is part of the reason why. The public surely doesn't see Polanski as a saint. But it also doesn't like being told what to do or think, and that's good news.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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