Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (Thinkfilm, NR)

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dvd_roman-polanski.jpgZenovich finds plenty of guilt to spread around to others involved in the case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's not unprecedented for Oscar winners to fail to pick up their awards in person. Sometimes they are making a political statement (Marlon Brando) or expressing disdain for the awards themselves (George C. Scott), and sometimes the cause is ill health (Satyajit Ray) or death (Heath Ledger, Howard Ashman). But Roman Polanski was not present to collect the 2002 Best Directing Oscar for The Pianist for a different reason: He would have been arrested upon entry to the United States because of charges dating back to 1977 that he had sex with a 13-year-old girl.

If you follow movies at all, you have probably heard some version of the events which caused Polanski to flee this country. But as is often the case when hot-button events are reported in the popular press, it's probable that what you heard was sensationalized and incomplete. Marina Zenovich's documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and is now available on DVD, presents her interpretation of those events, based on archival materials and interviews with many key players.

Zenovich's conclusion is not that Polanski is innocent; there's no question that he had sex with an underage California girl after giving her Quaaludes and champagne. But Zenovich finds plenty of guilt to spread around to others involved in the case, beginning with a publicity hound of a judge who allowed extrajudicial concerns to influence his judgment and committed so many violations of procedure that a guilty verdict would almost certainly have been overturned on appeal. Then there was a media eager to exploit the lurid aspects of the case, and also apparently neglectful parents who may have encouraged their daughter to engage in the behavior in question in order to further her modeling career. Think about it: If you had a beautiful 13-year-old daughter with a successful modeling career, would you let her go on an unsupervised photo shoot in an isolated location?

While it is certainly no excuse for statutory rape, it must be said that Roman Polanski experienced a remarkable amount of suffering. Half Jewish, he survived his childhood in Nazi-occupied Poland by hiding in the countryside while his father was confined to the Krakow ghetto and his mother perished in Auschwitz. He attended film school in Soviet-occupied Poland and began acting and directing in the 1950s. He seemed to find happiness in his marriage to actress Sharon Tate, only to see her brutally murdered by members of the Charles Manson family. Although Polanski was in London at the time, he was questioned by the police with regard to the murder, and the tabloid press had a field day suggesting he had Tate killed as part of a satanic ritual.

Zenovich uses clips from Polanski's films to propose parallels between their dark view of life and his own experiences, and suggests that the outsider nature which fueled his creativity also hampered him in the more mundane aspects of living. One of his friends commented that Polanski seemed to be missing the playbook for life.

Most of Roman Polanski is concerned with his arrest, trial and decision to leave the country before sentencing was complete. Zenovich covers a lot of ground efficiently, in part by having important information and excerpts from the trial typed on the screen, often in conjunction with archival footage relating to the same events. It's a good choice which obviates the need for voice-over or reenactment, and is particularly welcome because in this case the devil really is in the details.

Polanski's trial was conducted with an astonishing amount of bad faith. Judge Laurence J. Rittenband lied to all parties concerned, discussed the case with outsiders, held a press conference while it was still underway, and was later removed from the case at the request of both the prosecution and defense. Even district attorney Roger Gunson agrees that the trial was a sham and Polanski did the right thing in fleeing, since it was obvious that the judge had no intention of honoring the agreements made. The case remains officially unresolved today. Polanski lives and works primarily in France and avoids travel to any country (such as the United Kingdom) likely to extradite him to the United States.

The DVD comes with a generous package of extras, including a commentary track by Zenovich and editor Joe Bini, five deleted scenes and 32 interviews with everyone from legal experts to Polanski's childhood friends to Mia Farrow and Natassja Kinski. | Sarah Boslaugh

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