Officer and a Spy: Polanski’s Version of the Dreyfus Affair–Preview

Roman Polanski’s new film, An Officer and a Spy, about the notable and notorious Dreyfus affair, will compete in the 76th edition of the Venice Film Fest.

Based on the book by Robert Harris, the film depicts Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus, who is wrongfully convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Polanski penned the script with Harris, which offers roles to Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski’s actress-wife) Louis Garrel and Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”).

There have been several films, both American and international, about the Dreyfus Affair.

In fact the Hollywood version, The Life of Emile Zola, won the Best Picture Oscar Award in 1937.

Read our review:

Life of Emile Zola, The (1937): Dieterle’s Oscar-Winning Cusading Drama, Starring Paul Muni and Joseph Schildkraut in Supporting Oscar Role as Dreyfus

New assault accusations have surfaced against Polanski in the past few years, after the 1977 Los Angeles case where Polanski was charged with raping a minor. He was since expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a Paris retrospective attracted hordes of protestors. Polanski, who cannot travel to the festival, is expected to appear via Skype.

Venice does not have a great track record for inclusion. This year sees just two female directors in competition out of 21, with the last two years seeing only one. This, combined with Polanski’s spot in the lineup, is expected to draw further critique to the festival board, as pundits maintain that the festival hasn’t done enough to address selection bias.

Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera said about Polanski’s new film: “It’s a big movie. He did a great, great job to reconstruct a historical, accurate expression of the case, based on two documents of the time. It’s a great cast with a wonderful script. And of course he projects his own personal experience. It’s a very strong political statement that not only concerns the past, but is a very contemporary statement about racism and other types of problems. It’s on the same scale of The Pianist, and similar in that it’s connected to his own

Barbera holds that “We are here to see works of art, not to judge the person behind it. I hope we can just discuss about the quality of the film and not about Polanski and the case with L.A. County.

He elaborates: “Polanski is one of the last great European filmmakers, one of the last true artists from the classical period of 20th century cinema. I don’t think he deserved to be kicked out of the Academy. I don’t think it’s fair and more than that, I don’t think it’s right.

I think we should always make a distinction between the artist and the man. The history or art is full of artists who were assassins, criminals, had extremely bad behavior. But they were big artists and their works remain. Caravaggio was a killer, but he’s one of the major painters of the Italian Baroque period. It’s not so different.
If someone commits a crime, you should put them in jail. Why not? But this doesn’t mean that we should forget that he is an artist and did some works of art that are part of our film history and cultural heritage.