LONDON – Roman Polanski, the director who fled the United States in 1978 while awaiting conviction for having sex with an underage girl, was a big winner Friday night at the Césars, the French equivalent of the Academy Awards , bringing several actors out of the ceremony in indignation.
He was named best director for “J’accuse” (The English title: “An officer and a spy”) about Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish military officer wrongly condemned for treason in what remains the most notorious error court of France.
“Very few” people applauded Mr. Polanski’s best director award, said Le Monde, the French newspaper.
Adèle Haenel, one of the most prominent young actresses in France who said that she had suffered sexual abuse in the country’s film industry, was one of those who left the room during the César ceremony , waving an arm in disgust and pretending to say, “Shame. “
Several others followed Ms. Haenel when she left, including Céline Sciamma, director of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire, ”which starred Ms. Haenel. The 31-year-old actress also shouted, “Well done, pedophilia” when leaving the hall, according to videos shared on social networks.
Ms. Haenel previously complained this month in an interview with the New York Times about his appointments.
“Distinguishing Polanski spits in front of all the victims,” she said. “It means that raping women is not that bad.”
Mr. Polanski’s film won two other awards, having led the nominations with 12, the highest number of all films. Mr. Polanski received the Best Adapted Screenplay award with Robert Harris, the British novelist. The film also won the award for best costume design. He was nominated for the best film prize, but this honor was awarded to “Les Misérables”, a police drama which shows the harsh reality of life in the Parisian suburb populated by immigrants.
But he was not there to collect the awards. He announced Thursday that he would not attend the ceremony because he feared a “public lynching” of protesters outside, irritated by his links to sexual abuse of children.
“We already know how this evening will go,” said Mr. Polanksi in a declaration. “What place can there be in such deplorable conditions for a film on the defense of the truth, the struggle for justice, blind hatred and anti-Semitism?”
Mr. Polanski withdrew from the 2017 awards for the same reason.
Friday, French police fired tear gas outside the Paris concert hall hosting the César Film Awards during a clash with people protesting against the director, according to local reports. Protesters also shot down a security gate outside the site, but the police pushed them away, so they did not arrive on the red carpet.
Other protesters held up signs saying “Shame on an industry that protects rapists.”
The United States considers Mr. Polanski to be a fugitive from justice but was unable to obtain his extradition. He also faced other charges of sexual assault. In November, Valentine Monnier, photographer, accused Mr. Polanski of raping her in 1975, when she was 18, in a ski chalet in Switzerland. He denied the charges.
Critics hailed “I Accuse” at the Venice Film Festival last year. “The longer you watch it, the more it grows,” writes Xan Brooks in The Guardian. It had a similar success in France after its release in November and the film went beyond the country’s box office. But he also met with protests, and some actors in French cinema distanced themselves from Mr. Polanski.
After announcing the César appointments in January, a multitude of French feminist organizations said they would protest the ceremony. “If rape is an art, give Polanski all the Caesars,” they said in an open letter published in a major newspaper.
Mr. Polanski, although absent, occupied an important place throughout the evening. Florence Foresti, the actress and actress who hosted the event, started the event by welcoming “predators” to the audience.
“There are 12 moments when we are going to have a problem,” she said, referring to Mr. Polanski’s 12 appointments.
Ms. Foresti, who was not on stage when he was named best director, did not return for the end of the ceremony. She wrote on Instagram that she was “disgusted”.
Polanski’s decision to withdraw from this year’s awards ceremony did not lessen the controversy. Friday morning, Franck Riester, French Minister for Culture, said in a TV interview that if Mr. Polanski won the best director’s award at the Césars, it would be “a bad symbol since we must all be aware of the need to combat sexual violence and sexism”.
But Mr. Riester said he would be happy if “I Accuse” won the best film. There was “no need to penalize the team” for Mr. Polanski’s behavior, he said.
The first prize for the evening’s film went to the best costume designer. But the winner, Pascaline Chavanne, was not present to recover her trophy. The entire distribution and production team had avoided the event in the face of criticism of their director.
Elian Peltier contributed to reports from Adeje in Spain.