‘An Officer and a Spy’ Leads French Box Office Despite Roman Polanski Controversy

Elsa Keslassy

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Roman Polanski’s latest film, “An Officer and a Spy,” is leading the French box office after its opening weekend and fifth day out in theaters despite new sexual-assault accusations against the director and truncated promotion for the film.

Released by Gaumont last Wednesday across 545 screens, “An Officer and a Spy” has grossed an estimated €1.5 million ($1.6 million) from 370,000 tickets sold in France as of midday Monday, taking the lead at the weekend B.O. ahead of James Mangold’s “Ford v. Ferrari,” according to Comscore France. It’s the seventh-best start for a French film since the beginning of the year, Gaumont said.

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The film’s main Parisian premiere last Tuesday evening went smoothly, with Polanski and lead actor Jean Dujardin in attendance, but another premiere screening scheduled at a different Paris venue, which co-star Louis Garrel was supposed to attend, was canceled amid a protest by women’s-rights activists. A few other screenings around France were canceled because of similar protests, according to local reports.

Ticket sales for “An Officer and a Spy” grew over the weekend. Eric Marti, general manager for Comscore France, said the uptick was a sign that the film is enjoying strong word-of-mouth and will likely continue to perform well in the weeks to come.

“‘An Officer and a Spy’ has enough legs to sell between 1.2 million to 1.5 million admissions (and gross between $8.7 million to $11 million) in France, slightly more than Polanski’s 2010 film ‘The Ghost Writer,'” Comscore said.

But Marti said the film would have done substantially better without the controversy surrounding Polanski, whom former actor Valentine Monnier recently accused of raping her in 1975, when she was 18.

Apart from a few films – such as his previous one, “Based on a True Story,” and “Venus in Fur,” which under-performed – Polanski’s movies have traditionally been embraced by French audiences. His biggest hits in France have been “Pirates” (1986), with about 2 million admissions; “Tess” (1979), with 1.9 million admissions; and “The Pianist,” with 1.8 million admissions.

“An Officer and a Spy” delves into the true story of the Dreyfus Affair, a notorious case of anti-Semitism in late-19th-century France. Based on Robert Harris’ novel, the film focuses on Georges Picquart, an officer who defied orders and worked to clear the name of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a promising French-Jewish officer who was unfairly accused of spying for Germany and imprisoned on Devil’s Island in the late 1890s. The film’s French title, “J’Accuse,” refers to the famous 1898 open letter written by novelist Emile Zola accusing the French government of anti-Semitism.

Besides Oscar-winner Dujardin (“The Artist”) and Louis Garrel (“At Eternity’s Gate”), the film stars Emmanuelle Seigner (“At Eternity’s Gate”), who is Polanski’s wife. The film’s budget was €22 million (about $24 million), making it one of the year’s biggest French films.

Winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and nominated for four European Film Awards, “An Officer and a Spy” has also been an international sales success. Although it doesn’t yet have U.S. or U.K. distribution set, the film has been sold by Playtime to major distributors in most territories and will next come out in Italy (01 Distribution), Spain (Caramel Films), Germany (Weltkino) and Mexico (Gussi). The film has also been bought for Japan (Longride), Israel (United King Films) and Scandinavia (Future Film), among other territories.

Polanski, who has lived under the cloud of his 1977 conviction in California for statutory rape, was accused by Monnier in an article in Le Parisien newspaper of having raped her at a ski chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, in 1975. Polanski has denied the accusations and threatened to sue Le Parisien.

Following Monnier’s allegations, several promotional activities for the movie were axed. Dujardin withdrew from participating in a primetime evening newscast to promote the film; Seigner canceled her appearance on the France Inter radio show; and France Inter, a media partner for the film, decided not to broadcast a pre-recorded interview with Garrel.

Polanski could be facing expulsion from the ARP, the Société Civile des Auteurs, Réalisateurs, Producteurs, which is having a board meeting Monday to decide what sanctions to impose on any member being investigated for or found guilty of a sexual offense.

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