Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (Cinedigm, NR)

Roman-P.- -75The statutory rape conviction is the elephant in the room throughout.

Roman-P 500

Early in Laurent Bouzerau’s documentary Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, long-time Polanski friend and film producer Andrew Braunsberg (The Tenant, Being There, the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice) describes the film as a long conversation, giving Polanski an opportunity to recount his life story. That’s exactly what this film is: a sort of illustrated lecture of Polanski’s life, consisting primarily of extended segments of Braunsberg interviewing Polanski at his home in Gstaad, illustrated with archival clips, recreations, and still photos.

There are three reasons this film is worth seeing. One is that Polanski is one of the great directors of the second half of the twentieth century. His best works, including Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974), and The Pianist (2002), are essential viewing for anyone with a serious interest in cinema, so any new information about him is automatically of interest. The second is that Polanski’s life story is certainly far removed from the experience of most of us, beginning with his childhood spent dodging the Nazis in Poland. The third is that Bouzereau does a good job connecting Polanski’s life experiences with his filmmaking, in particular with the Oscar-winning The Pianist.

Polanski spends about equal amounts of time discussing his personal life and his career as a director; the latter discussions are illustrated with clips and stills from his films, including some from student films and his lesser-known works. The most interesting biographical material, because it is less well-known, concerns his childhood and early film career in Poland, while events like the murder of his wife Sharon Tate by members of the Manson family, and Polanski’s arrest and conviction in California for the rape of a 13-year-old girl have already been covered in detail elsewhere, and there’s not much new offered here. The statutory rape conviction is the elephant in the room throughout, because the interviews were conducted in Polanski’s house in Gstaad, primarily during the period when Polanski was under house arrest since being arrested while on his way to attend the Zurich Film Festival.

Bouzereau’s background as the director of many “making-of” documentaries is obvious in Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir: the interview segments are well-matched with archival materials and take advantage of Polanski’s gift for storytelling, which shines through in these interviews as much as it does in his films. On the other hand, this film has the feel of a DVD extra or a television special rather than a stand-alone feature film, and Cinedigm’s decision to distribute it online makes perfect sense — you might feel cheated seeing this in a theatre, but it’s definitely worth watching at home if you have any interest in Polanski and his work. | Sarah Boslaugh

Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir is available for viewing on iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, Sony, and Google/YouTube.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply