ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED
Even Hollywood with all its manpower and money could not create a work of fiction with as many stars, incredible twists and gripping moments as filmmaker Mrina Zenovich packs into Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. At a time when other unusually strong documenataries like Chris & Don and Man on Wire are also hitting the big screen, this film may prove an interesting test of “broken windows,” as it first aired on HBO about a month prior to its theatrical release.
Zenovich, who showed her taste for real-life, larger-than-life bad boys with her earlier doc about France’s controversial Bernard Tapie, has done everything right here. She and her team have corralled an amazing number of talking heads close to Polanski and close to the still-unresolved case that had the celebrated film director plead guilty to just one count—unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor (the then-13-year-old Samantha Gailey, now Geimer)—and flee the U.S. for France in 1978.
Polanski’s bolt, aided by funds from producer Dino De Laurentiis, occurred as it became clear to both sides in the case that the filmmaker would not see justice from the publicity-hungry trial judge, Laurence Rittenband. Now deceased, Rittenband emerges the story’s only “heavy” and he’s brought to life here.
Among the key players in the case very much alive today and sharing generously for the film are the lawyers, now both retired, on both sides, Polanski’s Lincolnesque attorney Douglas Dalton and Roger Gunson, the equally impressive assistant D.A. batting for the state of California.
Also weighing in are Geimer and her lawyer, the retired LAPD officers who investigated the crime, and journalists from the U.S. and Germany who covered the case and introduce one of the film’s themes—the cultural divide that separates Europe and the U.S., especially as it relates to sex. Note that the film’s title also embraces the theme of Europe “desiring” and honoring Polanski while the U.S. “wants” him for fleeing the country.
On the showbiz side, a number of producers contribute their recollections, including longtime Polanski pal Andrew Braunsberg and Hollywood insider Hawk Koch, whose father remembered some of Judge Rittenband’s bitter quacking about Polanski at the fabled Hillcrest Country Club.
The film, however, is so much more than the testimonials. Interwoven throughout are archival footage and some stills of the whole Polanski saga (the early party days in London, his marriage to Sharon Tate and their fairy-tale life in Hollywood, her shocking murder, the media frenzy that ensued, the trauma this episode cost him, and his post-tragedy activities and obsessions, including a taste for young teenage girls like Nastassja Kinski and Gailey). The bulk of footage covers investigation of the Polanski-Gailey case, its prosecution and Polanski’s stay at the Chino Penitentiary and the media circus surrounding these developments.
There’s much material here and it is brilliantly structured. (A fairly recent Polanski lunch and frank interview in Paris with British TV host Clive James bookends the film.) Editor Joe Bini manages to fashion this wealth of material into a briskly paced, fact-filled real-life story of terrible but reparable damage done as American Justice (mocked, perverted, miscarried, aborted?) goes astray.
The film’s many virtues aside, it’s still even money whether Roman Polanski will make it into many theatres. Troubled ThinkFilm certainly has the know-how to put this one across; the problem will be in finding the wampum to do so. A better bet is that this doc will have Polanski himself safely back on these shores at long last.
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