Didn’t quite know what to expect from this documentary, though I was aware of the broad details of Polanski’s eventful life – Sharon Tate’s husband when she was brutalized by Charlie Manson, surviving concentration camps, and so on. Quite watchable, if a bit disquieting.
This penetrating documentary explores the tumultuous events of director Roman Polanski’s personal life, including the murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and the controversial sex scandal that prompted him to flee the United States for France. Highlights include an interview with Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, as well as candid conversations with Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne and actress Mia Farrow.
(click here to Netflix Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.)
Polanski’s sexual encounter with a 13 year old is distasteful, whether or not is was consensual; 13 year old girls might be sexually active, but adults should have enough sense to keep their pants on. However, the film makes a pretty strong case for judicial misconduct on the part of Judge Laurence J. Rittenband.
Worth a view.
The tragic story of Roman Polanski, his life, his suffering and his crimes, has been told and retold until it assumes the status of legend. After the loss of his parents in the Holocaust, after raising himself on the streets of Nazi-controlled Poland, after moving to America to acclaim as the director of “Chinatown,” after the murder by the Manson family of his wife and unborn child … what then?
He was arrested and tried for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13- year-old girl, one of several charges including supplying her with drink and drugs. Then he fled the country to avoid a prison sentence and still remains in European exile for that reason. That is what everybody remembers, and it is all here in Marina Zenovich’s surprising documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.”
But there is so much more, and the story she builds, brick by brick with eyewitness testimony, is about crimes against the justice system carried out by the judge of Polanski’s case, Laurence J. Rittenband. So corrupt was this man that the documentary finds agreement among the three people (aside from Polanski) most interested in the outcome: the defense attorney, Douglas Dalton; the assistant D.A. who prosecuted the case, Roger Gunson, and Samantha Gailey Geimer, who was the child involved.
Their testimony nails Rittenband as a shameless publicity seeker who was more concerned with his own image than arriving at justice. Who broke his word to attorneys on both sides. Who staged a fake courtroom session in which Gunson and Geimer were to go through the motions of making their arguments before the judge read an opinion he had already prepared. Who tried to stage such a “sham” (Gunson’s term) a second time. Who juggled possible sentences in discussions with outsiders, once calling a Santa Monica reporter, David L. Jonta, into his chambers to ask him, “What the hell should I do with Polanski?” Who discussed the case with the guy at the next urinal at his country club. Who held a press conference while the case was still alive. Who was removed from the case on a motion by both prosecution and defense.
(click here to continue reading Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews.)
The sharply argued documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” isn’t about the innocence or guilt of its title subject, who after pleading guilty in 1977 to having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a minor flew from Los Angeles to London, never again to return to America. Neither is it about Mr. Polanski’s likability, his tragic past, morals, short stature, brilliant and bad films, the sleaze factor or your personal feelings on whether there’s anything wrong with a 43-year-old man’s having sex with a 13-year-old girl. All these elements come teasingly into view here, but really this is a movie about a very different kind of perversion.
“Wanted and Desired,” which opened on Friday without advance press screenings, was bought by HBO at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Its one-week theatrical run will make it eligible for Academy Award consideration, though given that organization’s often pitiful record when it comes to nonfiction film, it seems unlikely that a movie this subtly intelligent would make its short list. That’s especially true because the director, Marina Zenovich, refuses to wag her finger at Mr. Polanski, even when presenting the sordid and grimly pathetic details of his crime, like the Champagne and partial Quaalude he furnished the 13-year-old girl and her repeated nos.
Mr. Polanski’s guilt isn’t in doubt, arguments about the age of consent notwithstanding. In March 1977, he was arrested at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and charged with raping the girl at the home of his friend, Jack Nicholson, the star of his film “Chinatown.” (Mr. Nicholson was away.) He was released on $2,500 bail and eventually indicted on six felony charges, including child molestation and sodomy. In August, after agreeing to a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to one felony count of illegal sex with a 13-year-old girl. Her family’s lawyer, Lawrence Silver, told the judge that his clients were not seeking a prison term for Mr. Polanski, only an admission of wrongdoing and rehabilitation. By Feb. 1, 1978, Mr. Polanski had fled.
As Ms. Zenovich forcefully explains — using talking-head interviews, a wealth of archival material and generous clips from Mr. Polanski’s films, including “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown” — he had every reason to run. The story of what happened between the initial charges and his flight has been sketchily told before, including by his victim, Samantha Geimer, who in 2003 wrote a commentary for The Los Angeles Times in which she stated that she believed that he and his most recent film at the time, “The Pianist,” should be honored on their own merits. She added, “Who wouldn’t think about running when facing a 50-year sentence from a judge who was clearly more interested in his own reputation than a fair judgment or even the well-being of the victim?”
“Wanted and Desired” answers Ms. Geimer’s bombshell question with shocks of its own, notably corroborating interviews from Douglas Dalton, Mr. Polanski’s lawyer, and Roger Gunson, the assistant district attorney who led the prosecution. Together these two former opponents pin the blame for Polanski’s flight directly on the presiding judge, Laurence J. Rittenband (who stepped down in 1989 and died in 1994). Aided and abetted by an avalanche of fluidly organized visual material, the lawyers fill in the appalling details of what was effectively a second crime, one largely perpetrated by a celebrity-dazzled judge and the equally gaga news media he courted. This crime left two victims, Mr. Polanski, who was denied a fair trial, and Ms. Geimer, who was denied justice. As she wrote, “Sometimes I feel like we both got a life sentence.”
(click here to continue reading Movie Review – Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired – The Judge, the Director and the Vagaries of Justice – NYTimes.com.)