Movie Review—Director Roman Polanski's New Film

Film critics have long been tempted to link Roman Polanski's disturbing, brilliant, and sometimes twisted films (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist) to the director's private life, seeing how much they've been overshadowed by the 1977 child-sex case for which he now faces extradition to the United States from Switzerland, as well as by the gruesome murder of his pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, by members of the Manson Family in 1969.

The Ghost Writer, which premiered Friday at the Berlin Film Festival, is no exception. The brooding political thriller, based on a novel by Robert Harris, follows a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) hired by former British prime minster Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) to draft his memoirs. No sooner does the writer sit down with Lang to revise his dreadfully boring manuscript than the obviously Tony-Blair-inspired Lang is indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Iraq. As the writer works on the memoirs, he slowly unearths a conspiracy that explains why Lang had so consistently done Washington's bidding during the time he ran Britain.

For most of the rest of the film, the two remain holed up at the beach house of Lang's American publisher—not unlike Polanski, who was under house arrest this winter at his chalet in Gstaad, a luxurious Swiss resort, as he put the final touches on his work. In one scene near the movie's start, it's impossible to miss the echo when Lang's lawyer advises him not to return home for fear of immediate arrest at the airport upon his arrival.

The arrest, just after he landed at Zurich airport in September, kept Polanski from making his scheduled appearance in Berlin—he's been a regular guest in Germany, which has paid no heed to the international arrest warrant that the U.S. issued for Polanski in 2005. (He pleaded guilty at his 1978 trial but fled the United States a day before his sentence was to be handed down.) It's a bit of a mystery why the Swiss arrested him now. Polanski has long traveled to his Gstaad chalet, and the Swiss authorities could have nabbed him numerous times. On Friday, a Swiss official said an extradition order wouldn't be issued until Polanski has exhausted all his legal options in the U.S., and even then he will be able to appeal his extradition.

Because Polanski could travel neither to the United States nor Britain (which closely cooperates with U.S. extradition cases) to shoot the film, a Berlin street fills in for London in The Ghost Writer, while the Martha's Vineyard scenes were shot on Sylt, a dune-swept German North Sea island. In the middle of postproduction, Polanski suddenly found himself in a Swiss prison. He continued to work in his cell, with courier packages delivered by his lawyer. Now under house arrest after posting bail of $4.2 million, Polanski has to wear an electronic bracelet around his ankle to keep him from absconding across the nearby border to France, where his French citizenship would shield him from extradition.

In the film, neither Lang nor his ghost writer can escape their pursuers. Whether life imitates art to the end remains to be seen.

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