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BERLIN (Reuters) - Roman Polanski's new movie "The Ghost Writer" premiers on Friday at the Berlin film festival, but the director will be staying at home in Switzerland because of a sex case dating back more than 30 years.
Interest in the political thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan has been ramped up since the 76-year-old Oscar winner was arrested in Switzerland in September forcing him to stay away from the prestigious event.
Polanski was involved in post-production on the film while in prison and when he was moved to a chalet in Gstaad under house arrest was still adding the finishing touches.
Robert Harris, whose novel forms the basis of the plot, hopes the movie will be judged on its merits alone, despite the intense media interest in Polanski's legal tussle with the United States over the under-age sex case.
"Of course it is a very unforeseen and distressing situation to offer a film to the public without its director," Harris told the Hollywood Reporter.
"Showing it without him is a bit like having Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. But in a way, it is the best riposte to just show his work. That cannot be confined or silenced. I hope people will see beyond the controversy to the film itself."
Polanski, who made classics like "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown" and won an Academy Award for "The Pianist," pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl but fled the United States on the eve of his 1978 sentencing.
He has said he feared the judge would renege on an agreement to sentence him to 42 days he had already served behind bars.
Polanski's decision to flee made making movies particularly difficult, with the French-Polish director unable to travel to Hollywood or Britain. In a London libel case in 2005, he was allowed to give evidence in court via video link from France.
Should Switzerland decide to extradite him to the United States, Polanski could spend up to a year in court appealing. The Swiss justice ministry has said it will decide on extradition early in 2010. While Polanski's longer-term future is uncertain, his immediate concern is likely to be how The Ghost Writer, made with a budget reported to be around $45 million, is received.
McGregor plays a writer hired to write the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan), who is accused of authorizing the seizure of suspected terrorists and handing them over to the CIA to be tortured, constituting a war crime.
The writer stumbles across clues linking his employer with the CIA, and faces a life-and-death struggle to find the truth.
The storyline has inevitably led to comparisons between Lang and real former Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose decision to send in troops in 2003 made him unpopular with many voters, who said he had deceived them about the reasons for invasion.