He has spent half his life as the accused, but director Roman Polanski’s next film will be called “J’accuse” (I accuse), its producers told AFP Thursday.
The Polish-born film legend, who has spent four decades as a fugitive from US justice after admitting to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, is making a historical spy thriller based on the Dreyfus Affair — the most famous miscarriage of justice in French history.
The script has been written by British novelist Robert Harris, who previously worked with Polanski, 85, on the critically-acclaimed “The Ghost Writer” in 2010 starring Ewan McGregor.
“J’accuse” will star French Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin as the often forgotten counter-espionage officer who proved that the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus had been wrongly accused of spying for the Germans.
The case divided France for more than a decade from 1894, with the bitterness and divisions it created rankling right up until World War II.
Legende Films confirmed that shooting would begin soon around Paris, and began advertising for extras Thursday for scenes to be filmed at the end of November.
The French title of the film — the working title in English is “The Dreyfus Affair” — comes from the famous open letter written by novelist Emile Zola in support of the captain, lambasting the French government for its anti-Semitism.
Such was the official backlash that the author of “Germinal” had to flee into exile in England for 10 years after being convicted of libel.
Story of a witch-hunt
Polanski, the maker of such classic films as “Chinatown”, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Tess”, has tried to get an English-language version of the story of Lieutenant Colonel Georges Picquart off the ground for years without success.
“I have long wanted to do a film about Dreyfus, not as a costume drama but as a spy thriller,” Polanski said in 2012.
The story, he argued, was “absolutely pertinent for today’s world — a witch-hunt against a minority, paranoia about security, secret military courts and intelligence services out of control; lying governments and an enraged press.”
The new film will be in French, with actor Louis Garrel playing Dreyfus, and will also star “Bond” villain Mathieu Amalric and Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner.
While Dreyfus was rotting in the notorious Devil’s Island penal colony off French Guiana, Picquart reinvestigated the case in secret, proving that he was not the German mole.
But when he presented the evidence to the general staff of the French army they refused to admit there had been a mistake and did everything in their power to destroy him.
The producers said that “Picquart is the forgotten hero of the Dreyfus Affair… who discovered that the evidence against the captain had been fabricated”.
“From that moment he put his life and career at risk, and he never stopped trying to identify the real guilty parties and to rehabilitate Dreyfus,” they told Le Film Francais magazine.
Picquart was later made war minister in 1906 in a government led by Georges Clemenceau, who would go on to lead France during World War I.
Meanwhile, Polanski will be played by the Polish actor Rafal Zawierucha in Quentin Tarantino’s new film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, about the Manson Family murders that rocked Los Angeles in the late 1960s.
Polanski’s actress wife Sharon Tate was murdered by members of the group in their home in 1969. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time.