The figure of Roman Polanski hung once again over the Venice film festival on its second day after he released press notes for his new film that sought to discredit several women who claim he sexually abused them as minors, and suggested that he has been persecuted since the late 1960s, when the press insinuated he was a satanist after the murder, by members of the Manson Family, of his second wife, Sharon Tate.

In the press notes for his new film An Officer and a Spy, about the antisemitic Dreyfus affair – which has its premiere on Friday – the 86-year-old Chinatown director is portrayed as a persecuted victim of “neo-feminist McCarthyism” in an interview with the French polemicist Pascal Bruckner.

The author compares Polanski’s current treatment to what the director endured as “a Jew who was hunted during the war and a film-maker persecuted by the Stalinists in Poland”.

“Most of the people who harass me do not know me and know nothing about the case,” Polanski answers when asked how he would “survive the present-day neo-feminist McCarthyism”.

“My work is not therapy,” he says. “However, I must admit that I am familiar with many of the workings of the apparatus of persecution shown in the film, and that has clearly inspired me.”

Bruckner – whose novel Bitter Moon was made into a film by Polanski starring Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas – also discusses the murder of Sharon Tate by the Manson Family in 1969, which the director believes triggered the start of his “persecution”.

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“The press got hold of the tragedy and, unsure of how to deal with it, covered it in the most despicable way,” he says, “implying, among other things, that I was one of the people responsible for her murder, against a background of satanism.”

Polanski also attempted to discredit accusations by a number of women who said that the director abused them when they were under the age of 18, calling them “absurd stories by women I have never seen before in my life who accuse me of things which supposedly happened more than half a century ago”.

“Don’t you want to fight back?,” Bruckner asks. “What for? It’s like tilting at windmills,” responds Polanski.

Polanski also says that a miscarriage of justice such as the one in An Officer and a Spy, which is about the Dreyfus affair that scandalised France at the turn of the 20th century, could happen again today. “All the ingredients are there for it to happen,” he says. “False accusations, lousy court proceedings, corrupt judges, and above all ‘social media’ that convict and condemn without a fair trial or a right of appeal.”

Luca Barbareschi, a producer of An Officer and a Spy, threatened to pull the film after comments made by the chief Lucrecia Martel on the first day of the festival. The Argentine director said she would not attend the gala dinner for Polanski, although she agreed with the film being shown. Some media outlets reported that she would not watch the film at all. Barbareschi demanded an apology from Martel, who said her “words were deeply misunderstood”. She added: “If I had any prejudice [toward the film], I would have resigned my duty as the president of the jury.” An Officer and a Spy will premiere at Venice on Friday.

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The 76th annual Venice International Film Festival is scheduled to be held in the Italian city from 28 August to 7 September 2019. The festival director is Alberto Barbera, and Argentine film director Lucrecia Martel is heading up the jury.

Prominent among the films competing for the Golden Lion are the James Gray directed sci-fi epic Ad Astra featuring Brad Pitt; the standalone supervillain movie Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix; and Marriage Story, which features Scarlett Johansson opposite Adam Driver in Noah Baumbach’s study of a divorcing couple. 

Controversially the festival has given a competition slot to J’Accuse, Roman Polanski’s new film about the Dreyfus affair starring Jean Dujardin and Louis Garrel. And after a tepid response to last year’s criticism, the number of women directors being featured has been doubled, to two. There are premieres for auteur favourites such as idiosyncratic Swedish director Roy Andersson, maverick Chinese film-maker Lou Ye, and Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa. 

Andrew Pulver

Full line-up of films

Competition
The Truth (dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda) – opening film
The Perfect Candidate (dir: Haifaa al-Mansour)
About Endlessness (dir: Roy Andersson)
Wasp Network (dir: Olivier Assayas)
Marriage Story (dir: Noah Baumbach)
Guest of Honour (dir: Atom Egoyan)
Ad Astra (dir: James Gray)
A Herdade (dir: Tiago Guedes)
Gloria Mundi (dir: Robert Guédiguian)
Waiting For the Barbarians (dir: Ciro Guerra)
Ema (dir: Pablo Larraín)
Saturday Fiction (dir: Lou Ye)
Martin Eden (dir: Pietro Marcello)
La Mafia Non E Piu Quella di Una Volta (dir: Franco Maresco)
The Painted Bird (dir: Vaclav Marhoul)
Il Sindaco del Rione Sanita (dir: Mario Martone)
Babyteeth (dir: Shannon Murphy)
Joker (dir: Todd Phillips)
J’Accuse (dir: Roman Polanski)
The Laundromat (dir: Steven Soderbergh)
No 7 Cherry Lane (dir: Yonfan)

Out of competition
Seberg (dir: Benedict Andrews)
Vivere (dir: Francesca Archibugi)
The Burnt Orange Heresy (dir: Giuseppe Capotondi) – closing film
The King (dir: David Michôd)

Out of competition – special screenings
Irreversible – full version (dir: Gaspar Noé)
ZeroZeroZero – TV series
The New Pope (dir: Paolo Sorrentino)
Never Just a Dream: Stanley Kubrick And Eyes Wide Shut (dir: Matt Wells)

Out of competition – non-fiction
Woman (dirs.: Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Anastasia Mikova)
Roger Waters Us + Them (dir: Sean Evans, Roger Waters)
I Diari di Angela – Noi Due Cineasti. Capitolo Secondo (dirs: Yervant Gianikian, Angela Ricci Lucchi)
Citizen K (dir: Alex Gibney)
Citizen Rosi (dirs: Didi Gnocchi, Carolina Rosi)
The Kingmaker (dir: Lauren Greenfield)
State Funeral (dir: Sergei Loznitsa)
Collective (dir: Alexander Nanau)
45 Seconds of Laughter (dir: Tim Robbins)

Special event
Goodbye Dragon Inn (dir: Tsai Ming-Liang)

This is the second day Polanski has dominated the festival, after an opening day press conference in which Alberto Barbera – the festival’s director – said he was convinced he had made the correct choice to include Polanski despite the film-maker’s conviction, in 1978, for raping a 13-year-old girl in the US the previous year.

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“The history of art is full of artists who committed crimes but we have continued to admire their works, and the same is true of Polanski,” said Barbera. “He is, in my opinion, one of the last masters in European cinema.”



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