L’Affaire Dreyfus is one of the most “sensational political scandals and miscarriages of justice in history,” as D’s press release describes it. In the late 1890s Capt. Dreyfus was one of the few Jewish officers in the French Army. Accused of passing secrets to Germany, he was railroaded into life imprisonment until he was finally cleared of all charges twelve years later.
When asked how he was able to get inside the head and heart of his fictional heroine of Madame Bovary so convincingly, novelist Gustave Flaubert explained, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” Similarly, Marc Tracy of Tablet Magazine believes that, in the director’s own mind, Polanski sees himself as Dreyfus, unfairly targeted because of his Jewishness. Novelist Gore Vidal, who “was in the middle of all that” sexual scandal (and who wrote the screenplay for the 1958 film I Accuse! starring Jose Ferrer as Dreyfus), agrees: “Anti-Semitism got poor Polanski.” Tracy discredits the comparison:
The Dreyfus Affair (we know in retrospect) involved the deliberately false accusation, by means of forgery, that an innocent had committed a real crime. Dreyfus was a total innocent.… [To] conjure the Dreyfus Affair… cheapens the legacy of the episode that most exemplified all the dangers of anti-Semitism, and therefore cheapens anti-Semitism itself.
But what does Polanski himself say about his motivation? “I have long wanted to make a film about the Dreyfus Affair,” he says, “treating it not as a costume drama but as a spy story”:
In this way one can show its absolute relevance to what is happening in today’s world – the age-old spectacle of the witch-hunt of a minority group, security paranoia, secret military tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, governmental cover-ups and a rabid press.
Seriously? A metaphor for the “war on terror”?