Director Roman Polanski goes on trial in Paris on defamation charges

Roman Polanski on trial in Paris on defamation charges
Roman Polanski on trial in Paris on defamation charges Copyright AP Photo/Jarek Praszkiewicz
By David MouriquandAgencies
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The controversial filmmaker goes on trial in Paris for defamation after describing British actress Charlotte Lewis's accusations of sexual assault against him as an "odious lie".

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Veteran Franco-Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski goes on trial in France today over allegations he defamed British actress Charlotte Lewis, who accused him of sexual abuse in the 1980s.

The 90-year-old director, who currently resides in Paris, is not due to appear in court, his lawyers have said. Lewis, 56, will be present at the trial.

Lewis claimed in May 2010 that Polanski had sexually assaulted her during an audition at his Paris home in 1983, when she was just 16 years old. The actress, who later starred in Polanski's 1986 film Pirates, did not go to the police in the UK, but instead shared her account with the American police.

In December 2019, Polanski refuted these accusations as an "odious lie" in a Paris Match magazine interview. He referenced a quote attributed to Lewis from a 1999 interview with the now-defunct outlet News of the World, in which she allegedly remarked: "I wanted to be his mistress (…) I probably desired him more than he did me." 

Lewis disputed the quote's accuracy in 2010, and following Polanski's Paris Match interview, filed a defamation lawsuit, which led to the subsequent magistrate hearing.

Polanski's legal team denied any defamation in their client's comments made to Paris Match: "Roman Polanski has the right to defend himself publicly, on the same basis as the person accusing him," said lawyer Delphine Meillet.

The defamation trial comes as French cinema reels from accusations it has too long provided cover for abuse. At this year's Césars Awards, actress Judith Godrèche denounced "impunity" in the film industry, after accusing two directors of raping and sexually assaulting her as a teenager.

Polanski has in recent years kept a very low profile, his latest film The Palace premiering without him at the Venice Film Festival last summer.

The director - whose career includes his Oscar-winning films like Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist - fled to Europe in 1978. France has refused to extradite him back to the US where he faces charges for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He has faced a string of sexual assault allegations throughout his career, all of which are now statute-barred. Polanski has denied the accusations throughout his career.

Today’s hearing is the first in France to be held in connection with the many accusations of sexual assault levelled at Polanski.

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