“I think the #MeToo phenomenon is fantastic, that speech has been liberated, and that we can hear the victims of rape and incest and all that,” Emmanuelle Seigner said the other night on BFMTV, France’s CNN, where the actress, singer, and wife of Roman Polanski was promoting her memoir, Une Vie Incendiée (A Burned-Down Life), which came out this week.
Oh no, here comes the “but.” “But my speech has also been liberated, and I’m a woman, too.”
True. It’s just that, so far, Seigner’s free-speaking book rollout has not been a charm. The very first interview, on Sept à Huit, a 60 Minutes–style chat show on the national TF1 network, was a softball, and still she defended her husband against five relatively recent accusations of past sexual assault and rape by saying that too many women threw themselves at him for him to need to force himself on them. (Never mind that he had already pleaded guilty, in 1977, to having sex with a 13-year-old named Samantha Gailey, now Geimer, who did not and could not consent.) That justification went out in 2011 with Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Perhaps the news travels slowly to Gstaad.
Twitter erupted in denunciations and emoji barfs, and then, on Tuesday, the indie outlet Mediapart reported that Sept à Huit’s editorial union had registered a complaint that the show was journalistically unbalanced. According to e-mails, the show’s producer, Emmanuel Chain, told his underlings they could get lost and then immediately walked it back.
In a second interview, on France 2, Seigner apologized for her offensive construction, calling it “maladroit,” but her support of her 89-year-old husband remains steadfast. So does that of Geimer, Polanski’s one legally recognized victim. (This story has so many asterisks it resembles a snow globe.) On Monday, she tweeted: “Looking forward to reading Emmanuelle Seigner’s new book. Everybody hates a woman who tells her own truth instead of falling in line to be a victim or a saint. She’s a bad ass and there is not a thing anyone can do about it. Suck it haters.”
After settling a civil suit with Polanski in the early 1990s, Geimer publicly forgave him and called for the affair to come to a close. She has long said that media harassment has been harder on her than the original offense, an assertion that Seigner mentions multiple times. Thanks to transcripts that were unsealed only last summer, there is a credible case for judicial misconduct in the original affair. The first judge, Laurence Rittenband, appears to have changed his mind on sentencing abruptly, which is what made Polanski decide to pull a runner. He’s been running ever since.
Perhaps the news travels slowly to Gstaad.
Seigner’s position is defensive because Polanski no longer enjoys the unqualified, full-throated support of the cultural elite. We’ve come a long way from 2009, when he was finally arrested in Switzerland—the inciting incident for Seigner’s memoir—and over 100 Hollywood types (Tilda Swinton, Natalie Portman, David Lynch; also, Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein) signed a petition in support. The firmament has shifted so much that by the 2020 César Awards, where Polanski won best director for An Officer and a Spy, the prominent actress Adèle Haenel, herself a survivor of sexual harassment as a child, walked out shouting, “Vive la pédophilie.” (Seigner recalls that this is the same Haenel who “got on her knees” to compliment her on her performance in Polanski’s 2013 film, Venus in Fur.) A banner unfurled in front of the theater: Polanski: César for Best Rapist of 2020.
Polanski has since been expelled from the general assembly of the French film academy that gives the César Awards, and his latest film, The Palace, found no French backers. Protested by Swiss film-industry workers, it finished shooting this summer in Gstaad, where Polanski and Seigner have a chalet called “Milky Way.” (Get your mind out of the gutter; the galaxy is often visible from the Alps.)
Plainspoken and vulnerable, Seigner’s memoir is about how her family was turned upside down by Polanski’s 2009 arrest, when a shocked Seigner had to hock the couple’s Paris apartment for his Swiss bail and practically tried to swat the news helicopters away from the roof of Milky Way.
She writes of how her career, which she worked to separate from his, faltered, too—albums put on hold, a collection with Uniqlo canceled, movie offers dropped—and their grade-school-age kids were traumatized. Polanski has been a faithful husband and great father, she says; he does the dishes and the school runs. She can’t imagine him capable of violence and justifies his past affairs and swinging behavior as being part of another, more permissive time. She wasn’t present at any of the alleged assaults, but she knows her husband. Sigh.
The strangest part of this tale is that she was so shocked that the police would come calling again. Seigner confesses to momentary flashes of anger over Polanski’s not having gotten his legal affairs in order sooner. She says that she knew what she was getting into when she married him.
And yet she, and he, floated along for two decades, avoiding jurisdictions with extradition treaties with the U.S., thinking that American justice would just drop it because he was personally satisfied that the 42 days he did in Chino were enough. Polanski told Seigner that he and his previous wife, Sharon Tate, brutally murdered in 1969 by the Manson family, had wanted to have the child they were expecting in America.
The strangest part of this tale is that she was so shocked that the police would come calling again.
Seigner has a firm grasp of the law, as evidenced by, among other things, an anecdote early in her book when she finally snaps and attacks a paparazzo outside her Paris apartment with the crash helmet given to Polanski by the Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart. (She was wearing it on the back of a scooter.) She went straight to the police, told them she took the first swing, and learned that she was within her rights to do so. Vive la France.
She is quick to remind us all that Polanski is due the presumption of innocence for these five newish accusations of sexual assault, whose statute of limitations has come and gone. (Polanski denies all of the allegations made against him.) She claims to welcome the upcoming defamation suit that the actress Charlotte Lewis, one of the five accusers, has brought against Polanski, E. Jean Carroll–style, for his calling her a “hateful liar” in a self-pitying 2019 interview in Paris Match.
But can you reasonably use the law as a shield if you’re harboring a fugitive from justice? Though Polanski’s lawyers continue to try to have the Geimer case resolved, the California courts won’t even start negotiating until the accused himself returns to the United States to settle his fugitive status.
Seigner protests that Polanski doesn’t trust the American judicial system, and while that may be emotionally, psychologically justified, legally speaking: tough titties. We have a thing in America called “an appeal,” of which Polanski’s lawyers are well aware.
Seigner is trying to plead hers in the press. She should know better than anyone that isn’t going to cut it.
To hear Alexandra Marshall reveal more about her story, listen to her on AIR MAIL’s Morning Meeting podcast
Alexandra Marshall is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL. She is a contributor to W, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and Travel + Leisure. Marshall recently relocated from Paris to Le Perche