Date: July 11 (limited)
Joe Bini, P.G. Morgan, Marina Zenovich
Roman Polanski, Mia Farrow, Jack Nicholson, Sharon Tate
Time: THINKFilm / HBO Documentary Films, 99 mins.
Roman Polanski received an Oscar nomination for directing The
Pianist a few years ago, it was widely reported that if he
returned to the U.S. for the award ceremony he could be arrested. In
1978, he’d been convicted of unlawful sex with a minor and fled the
country to avoid prison, and surely no statue short of the Maltese
Falcon would be worth such a brazen test of the American justice
system. Polanski won the prize, but he was absent from the ceremony.
the new documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which
is playing in select theaters and on HBO, filmmaker Marina Zenovich
lays out the basic facts that led to Polanski’s flight to Europe,
and she doesn’t deny his guilt. She does, however, provide enough
context that a sympathetic portrait emerges. Regardless of anyone’s
final judgment of the man, there’s no doubt that he’s a tragic
figure in many ways: his parents were killed by Nazis when he was a
boy and he rebuilt a stable life in the U.S. as a filmmaker (making
films like Rosemary’s Baby and Knife in the Water),
but then, at the height of his popularity and promise, his beloved
and pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by followers of Charles
Manson. He rebuilt his life again and went on to make Chinatown,
but then became embroiled in the case that has marked him for
the rest of his life.
traces this roller coaster with excellent use of archival footage,
film clips and recent interviews, including a few brief conversations
with the victim herself, all of which construct a picture of a media
circus that ended in a farcical sentence. In this portrait,
Polanski’s escape seems like a reasonable reaction to a witch-hunt.
The interviews with the victim are frustratingly brief, but they
imply that even she regrets how things turned out. The film leans a
bit too heavily on the idea that Polanski was a high-living artist
who was rejected by a puritanical America and embraced by an
understanding Europe (“wanted” in one locale, “desired” in
the other). There’s a kernel of truth in that, but it’s inflated
to the point of brushing aside a little matter of statutory rape.
However, on balance, the film is a credible re-evaluation of a
complex man whose films have managed to maintain their classic status
even in a country where their creator has been disgraced.