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Review: Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008)

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008)

Directed by: Marina Zenovich

Premise: A documentary about filmmaker Roman Polanski focusing on his 1977 conviction for sexual intercourse with a minor.

What Works: In the 1960s and 70s, filmmaker Roman Polanski became one of Hollywood’s hottest directors. Repulsion, Macbeth, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown were hailed by critics, recognized by the Hollywood awards circuit, and were hits with the audience. Polanski had a tragic life story, having lost his mother in the Holocaust and his wife in the Manson family murders. In 1977, Polanski pled guilty to having sexual relations with a thirteen year old girl. Before Polanski could be sent to prison, the filmmaker fled to Europe where he has remained ever since. In the ensuing decades, Polanski continued to make films such as Frantic, The Ninth Gate, Oliver Twist, Carnage, and Venus in Fur, and he won an Oscar for Best Director for The Pianist. For the past forty years Polanski’s crimes have presented an ethical and moral conundrum for filmmakers and critics and it exemplifies the conversation about what place (if any) the personal conduct of artists has in the valuation of their work. The documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired examines the legal case as well as Polanski’s film career and the way show business and criminal justice proceedings can impact each other. It’s a thoughtful piece and well made. Wanted and Desired mixes interviews and archival footage including news reports and clips of Polanski’s films as well as excerpts from legal documents. The combination is informative but presents the exposition with a great deal of style. Wanted and Desired is organized intelligently, covering the case and then delving into Polanski’s background and career and putting the case in historical context. The documentary also has an effective soundtrack that mixes original music by Mark De Gli Antoni with samples of the scores to Polanski’s films. Part of the irony of Polanski’s criminal case is that its characters and themes mirror many of the recurring motifs of his motion picture work, namely sexuality and corruption. As Wanted and Desired reveals, there’s no question that Polanski is guilty but it’s also the case that the judge was more concerned with his image in the press than he was with legal procedure or maintaining the integrity of the court. And yet, the judge’s corruption does not absolve Polanski’s crimes. In that respect, Wanted and Desired is a complex story. It presents the facts of Polanski’s life but it is also about the narratives that the press and the culture and Polanski himself built around the filmmaker and how perceptions of the case are shaped and obfuscated by the noise of celebrity.

What Doesn’t: Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired has a curious blind spot with regard to Polanski’s victim Samantha Geimer. She is interviewed, as is Geimer’s attorney Lawrence M. Silver, but her place in this story is marginalized. Geimer has a complex relationship with the case. In recent years she has called for an end to attempts to extradite Polanski and spoke out against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its decision to expel the filmmaker. Her experience and feelings about the case are complex and interesting and present their own ethical questions but these matters are largely ignored by this documentary. The goal of Wanted and Desired is to tell the story of this case and grasp the many complex legal, ethical, and moral lapses of the people involved. It does that but the approach marginalizes the experience of the victim.That’s all the more troubling because additional accusations against Polanski have come to light since the documentary was made.

DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, and extended interviews.

Bottom Line: Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is a sophisticated work about a complex case. The documentary may not address every aspect of the incident but it does pick apart its various layers. Although it was made ten years ago, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is essential viewing for the Me Too and Times Up era.

Episode: #697 (May 6, 2018)