Film director Roman Polanski had headed to Switzerland expecting to be feted with a retrospective of his distinguished career at the Zurich Film Festival only to find himself arrested on a 31-year-old warrant as he arrived at the capital's airport.
This has been the fate hanging over the Oscar-winning |director of Chinatown and The Pianist since that day in 1977 when he had sex with a 13-year-old girl he was photographing for the French edition of Vogue.
There was a mood of disbelief in Zurich's Corso Cinema yesterday morning as the news broke. Young film-makers and invited guests had gathered for a masterclass with the 76-year-old Polanski.
Footage of The Pianist was screening silently as they filed into the cinema, and the atmosphere was initially one of fervent anticipation for they had been promised that |they would be allowed to ask whatever questions they chose to one of the sacred monsters of world cinema.
Then at 11am the audience was told that the event had been cancelled because the director had been arrested on Saturday night. “He (Polanski) was allowed to make two calls,” a festival spokesperson told the room. “He called his wife and he called us.”
It remained unclear last night why this visit had triggered the interest of the Swiss authorities. The director had often travelled to Switzerland.
Guido Balmer, a spokesman for the Swiss Justice ministry, would only say that Mr Polanski had been taken into custody because “there was a valid arrest warrant and we knew when he was coming”.
The director has lived in France for the past three decades, since fleeing the US. French Culture minister Frederic Mitterrand said he was “stunned” to hear about the arrest, adding he “regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has known so many during his life”.