A dozen of the French-Polish director’s nominations had divided opinion in France, a country where the #MeToo movement that inspired women globally to put powerful men out for sexual misconduct has struggled to gain traction.
Polanski, 86, whose film also won awards for best adaptation and best costume designer, stayed away from the event, saying he feared it would be covered.
Controversy revolved around Polanski’s inclusion in the awards program, which fled the United States for France in the late 1970s after admitting to raping a 13-year-old girl, and is facing more recent allegations of sexual assault.
Polanski denies the latest allegations against him.
During the ceremony, the biggest night on the French cinema calendar, Polanski served as a lightning rod and punch line, with the ceremony host questioning pedophilia.
“This is the last (event) of one lifetime and the first of another,” said actress Sandrine Kiberlain.
Among the early leavers was leading actress Adele Haenel, who revealed last year that she had been sexually abused as a child by another director.
Haenel told the New York Times before the ceremony that France had “failed the boat” on #MeToo and criticized the Caesar Awards for recognizing Polanski.
Film director Roman Polanski arrives at Madeleine Church to attend a ceremony during a ‘popular tribute’ to the late French singer and actor Johnny Hallyday in Paris, France, December 9, 2017. REUTERS
“Polanski’s discrimination spits in the face of all the victims. It means that rape of women is not that bad,” he said.
Outside protesters clashed with police just before the biggest names in a French film hit Pleynel’s concert hall, but none of them hit the red carpet. Nearby, other protesters waved placards peacefully reading “Shame on industry protecting defenders.”
FALSE MESSAGE IN #METOO ERA
“Officer and Spy” chronicles the persecution of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish army officer in the 1890s. He missed out on the best film for “Les Miserables”.
Polanski himself survived the Holocaust, while his mother died in a Nazi concentration camp. He shot to fame in the United States with his 1968 Hollywood film “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Polanski’s cast and production team boycotted the Cesars on Friday after Culture Minister Franck Riester said the success of a director accused of rape would send the wrong signal in the era of #MeToo.
Last year French photographer Valentine Monnier accused Polanski of raping her in 1975 when she was an 18-year-old model and actress. Polanski has denied the accusation.
This is the second time in five months that Polanski, who was expelled last year from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences – bestselling the Oscars – sparked disquiet.
Organizers of the Venice Film Festival drew criticism for including Polanski’s work in the program. He went on to take the Festival Silver Grand Jury in September.
The awards in France come the same week that Harvey Weinstein, once one of Hollywood’s most influential producers, was convicted of sexual assault and rape by a court in New York.
Several male actors carefully tossed around Polanski’s subject on Friday night.
“Hopefully we will always be able to continue playing the game of seduction together in cinema and in real life. There I did it, I offended anyone,” says actor and director Mathieu Kassovitz.
Critics of the #MeToo movement in France say it is puritan and men-fired.
Prior to the Cesars, former star of the French film Brigitte Bardot, he managed to support Polanski.
“We should be grateful that Polanski is alive and saving French cinema from mediocrity,” Bardot said on Twitter. “I judge him by his talent, not his private life.”