Wednesday, September 03, 2008
When most people think of Roman Polanski, they immediately remember his legal troubles over a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, when he was 44. To counterbalance this common instant reaction, Marina Zenovich’s new HBO documentary, ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED, does as much as it can to remind you about the other great hardships of Polanski’s life. There have been plenty, that’s for sure. He lost his mother and father during the Second World War, his mother losing her life in Auschwitz. He survived somehow and eventually made his way to London, where he pursued a career in filmmaking, something he always knew he wanted to do. It was there that he met his future wife, actress, Sharon Tate. They made a life for themselves in Los Angeles and for a while, they were happy. Then Tate, eight months pregnant at the time with Polanski’s child, was murdered in her home along with four others in a horrific fashion at the hands of Charles Manson and his “family”. Still Polanski soldiered on and he did so by producing some of Holywood’s greatest classics, like ROSEMARY’S BABY and CHINATOWN. Polanski has had incredible highs and horrendous lows and while he should be both commended and consoled, he still slept with a minor and that can’t be forgotten.
With so many dramatic experiences to choose from, it isn’t difficult for Zenovich to string her piece together. Despite its straightforward approach, it is never quite clear where she stands on Polanski’s behaviour. She does focus her documentary to show how no matter how many other things have happened in Polanski’s life that this one particular mistake is the event that defines it all. However, she never questions his judgment and leaves the opinion forming to her audience. This would ordinarily be a respectable decision but Zenovich’s intentions may not be as noble as they appear. She presents us with a very well balanced argument regarding whether Polanski received a fair trial or not. Lead legal counsel for both the defense and the prosecution are interviewed and, lending volumes of weight to the film, they both present relatively similar accounts of the trial and what went on behind the scenes. It is the behind the scenes material that puts the issue of fairness into question. The proceedings were overseen by Judge Lawrence Rittenband, a judge notorious for his attraction toward celebrity and the idea of being one himself. Rittenband essentially orchestrated the proceedings of his court as though he were directing a film and the intended audience was the press. Zenovich has shown us the charade and while this is all horribly unjust, it still does not negate what Polanski did.
The next question is whether what Polanski did thirty years ago even matters now. Samantha Geimer, the plaintiff in the case, who also appears in the film, has forgiven Polanski publicly. The judge now responsible for the case has stated for the record that Polanski would not serve any jail time if he were to reenter the United States. The man even won an Oscar for directing THE PIANIST in 2002. Clearly the world has moved on but Zenovich has brought us back. Her approach is well-rounded; her style is formulaic but solid. The only thing missing is a genuine satisfaction that her efforts have been fully realized. ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED alludes to Polanski being wanted in one country and desired in others but does nothing to suggest what the wants and desires mean about those feeling them. So all we’re truly left with is another reminder of what he did.