Monday, June 13, 2011

ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED


Marina Zenovich, 2008

It seems like cinephiles are rarely divided over moral issues. Sure, we fight and scream about whether a film is worthy or a director is overrated, but we don't often debate serious issues. In recent years, one of the biggest news items of moral merit has been Roman Polanski and his recent re-arrest in September of last year. It sparked a number of heated debates on the internet and in the press.

For those of you who somehow don't know, Polanski was arrested in the late '70s for the rape of a thirteen year old girl and eventually put on trial for what is essentially statutory rape. There was some serious legal bungling by the judge and Polanski was jerked around for months. He served a few months in prison on an "observational" charge, was released early and awaited further sentencing from the judge. He decided to flee the country rather than be further fucked by the court and has lived in France, still working as a director, for the last thirty odd years. Last September he was arrested in Zurich, when he headed there to accept a lifetime achievement award, and placed under house arrest. A new California judge has declared that he has to return to the United States to complete his sentencing.

Directed, produced, and co-written by Marina Zenovich, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is a documentary covering Polanski's sexual abuse scandal from the beginning of the case in 1977 to 2008, when he was still living in France. It also throws in a smattering of information about his life and films. It features clips, photos, news coverage, and tons of interviews. The amount of material already available is staggering, but Zenovich manages it well. The interviews are impressive, and include old friends, fellow film personalities, the arresting officers, victim Samantha Geimer, Polanski's defense attorney, and the California prosecutor who handled the case. Polanski himself is curiously absent, which is a shame, but not really surprising considering the on-going nature of the case. Zenovich features a few previously filmed interviews with him to make up for this.

I'm not really sure what to say about this documentary. Zenovich is obviously pro-Polanski, essentially saying that he did a bad thing, but the California legal system treated him much worse than he deserved. She side steps the moral debate by interviewing the victim and establishing that Geimer has forgiven Polanski. In an unsettling way, she also presents the thirteen year old Geimer as a less than innocent victim. She was sexually active and used to drinking and taking drugs. She allowed herself to be photographed naked and willingly accepted both drugs and alcohol from Polanski. This is obviously an uncomfortable set of issues, which I have neither the time, space, or inclination to try to qualify here, so I'm not even going to try.

Though the documentary is well done, I was disappointed. I think I would have preferred to see a documentary about his life, rather than an entire hour and half dedicated to the assault case. While it is an important issue and people should know the facts if they are going to have an opinion about it, I think it overshadows the life and work of an amazing talent. Though I don't want to get into the debate, Polanski is one of my favorite directors and I strongly believe he is one of the greatest talents of his generation. His life is a sad and fascinating story that deserves to be told in full, even though it is far from over. He richly deserves all the awards he has won over the past decade, including his lifetime achievement award.

If you want to know the facts of the case, pick up this documentary. Otherwise, just watch one of his films, which is definitely a much better way to spend ninety minutes. The single-disc DVD is easy to find and currently streaming on Netflix.

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