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Roman Polanski’s Venice Silver Lion winner An Officer and a Spy topped the French box office in its first week of release despite calls to boycott the film after actress Valentine Monnier accused the director of rape.
The film, starring Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin, Louis Garrel and Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner, had the strongest opening for Polanski in France in years, with 501,000 tickets sold across 545 screens for the week ended Wednesday. His 2003 Oscar-winner The Pianist sold 1.8 million tickets during its release, but recent films haven’t fared as well, with 2013’s Venus in Fur topping out at 264,000 tickets and 2017’s Based on a True Story selling just 110,000.
Spy finished ahead of James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari, starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon, which filled 403,000 seats over the week in France. Nicolas Bedos’ La Belle Epoque sold 302,000 tickets in its second week, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s The Specials sold 237,000 tickets in its fourth week for a total of 1.8 million seats sold.
Riding its awards buzz, Joaquin Phoenix starrer The Joker sold 214,000 tickets, rounding out the top five in France for a total of 5.3 million admissions.
The strong first-week performance comes as the country’s writers, producers and directors guild ARP has moved to suspend Polanski and feminist groups have called for a boycott of the film. The new accusations have sparked a fiery debate in France, where the film industry has long held that one should separate a director’s personal actions from his body of work.
Government ministers have been weighing in on the issue. Equality minister Marlene Schiappa said publicly that she would not see the film, a sentiment seconded by president Emmanuel Macron’s spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye. Culture minister Franck Riester said that Polanski’s past actions should be taken into account moving forward. “A work, however great it is, does not excuse the possible mistakes of its author. Talent is not a mitigating circumstance; genius, not a guarantee of impunity,” he said.
However, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he would go see the film with his children as it touches on an important event in France’s history.
Monnier’s explosive charges were revealed Nov. 8, when she told newspaper Le Parisien that Polanski violently raped her in 1975 in Switzerland. The story was corroborated by contemporary sources.
Polanski pleaded guilty to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old-girl in Los Angeles in 1977 as part of a plea bargain to avoid more serious charges and served 42 days in jail. He fled the U.S. before his final sentencing and remains a fugitive.
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