Image Entertainment // 2008 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // February 2nd, 2009
The truth couldn't fit in the headlines.
I recall back in 2003 when Roman Polanski was nominated as Best Director for The Pianist, the devastating Holocaust drama that served as a response to personal memories of surviving Nazi-occupied Poland. Steve Martin hosted the Oscar ceremony, which failed to have Polanski in attendance due to him being wanted by L.A. police for having "unlawful sexual intercourse" with a 13-year-old girl. When the night started, it was treated as a joke, with Martin announcing "Roman Polanski is here...GET HIM!" Near the end, however, Polanski had won and received a standing ovation initiated by Martin Scorsese. To the Hollywood community, at least, Polanski's European "escape from justice" had been forgiven and the filmmaker had gotten his long-coveted reward.
As director Marina Zenovich sets out to argue in Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, we must not listen to the media but to the facts. And the facts are that Polanski didn't necessarily leave America to flee justice, but rather because he was tired of being jerked around after nearly a year of legal wrangling by the media-hungry judge who was controlling his case. This fascinating and remarkable documentary seeks to put this decades-old case to rest, whether it's with Polanski's participation or not. However, it also seeks to slam the American justice system for its overly conservative, Puritan-esque attitude, which has painted Polanski as a scummy pedophile who raped a child. There's no denying what Polanski did was wrong, but the case itself and the circumstances surrounding it have been simplified to a scandalous label for one of the finest film directors of all time. Indeed, you may not forgive Polanski after watching it but you at least sympathize with his reasoning behind leaving the country; the prosecuting attorney certainly did, and he's a Mormon!
Polanski's life has been marked by several tragic episodes. Not only was he a survivor of the Holocaust, but his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered at the hands of the Manson family. Even after garnering international acclaim for such films as Knife In The Water, Repulsion, and Rosemary's Baby, Polanski was still unable to overcome his "malignant, twisted dwarf" image that had been drawn by the American press. The title itself, Wanted and Desired, alludes to this 180-degree difference in how America and Europe, respectively, view the man. In his native Poland and France, he's considered a national treasure, but many in America (aside from Hollywood and film scholars) view him as nothing more than a sick criminal who jumped on a plane to avoid prison. Still, many of those who sit down and talk with Zenovich tell a more complicated, jaw-dropping story which no writer could have cooked up.
The assembly of talking heads Zenovich gets to speak about the case is amazing. Two key participants (Polanski and the late Judge Laurence J. Rittenband) may not be on hand to offer their comments, but virtually everyone else involved does, including Douglas Dalton (the defense attorney) and Roger Gurson (the prosecuting attorney), who have remained silent for over 30 years. Dalton and Gurson are in virtual agreement over Rittenband's misuse of justice, and are still shocked over the media frenzy that had erupted because of the judge's fetish for celebrity justice. Also on-hand is the now grown-up Samantha (Gailey) Geimer, who has publicly forgiven Polanski for his sexual act with her, and she even contends the court proceedings were more traumatizing than the act itself. Interlaced with these speakers are reels of archived footage (many from news sources showcasing the external revelations of the trial), including vintage interviews with Polanski. What gives Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired a darkly ironic angle is the inclusion of clips from his films, which exposes parallels between his career and private life. The music cues from Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion, and other Polanski films generate an uncomfortable, chilling, even surreal mood.
The sensationalism surrounding Polanski's case has long since buried by time. The one question that remains is will the quasi-reclusive filmmaker ever return to the U.S., if only to return to court and have the case closed once and for all. In 1997, it seemed like it was after the new judge stated Polanski wouldn't have to serve any more jail time. The release of this documentary has added more fuel to the fire, as Polanski and his current lawyer are seeking a dismissal on the grounds of judicial misconduct, as well as the case moved out of Los Angeles entirely, because of the city's requirement he appear in court. It may not be an apology, but it's at least a desire to end the ordeal, and even Samantha Geimer herself has filed to have the charges dismissed. If the publicity of the case itself has been more damaging than the encounter itself, then her plea -- as well as this film -- should give proper vindication to Polanski. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is a must-see, one of 2007's best films, and second only to Man on Wire as the year's best documentary.
Image Entertainment steps up to the plate to bring this documentary produced by HBO and Th!nkFilm to DVD. Visually, we have a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen print that looks very good despite reels of archival footage and a low budget. The interviewees are photographed very well, and even much of the color footage of Polanski's trial holds up surprisingly well. Much of the B&W footage has a fair share of damage, but this is to be expected. As a whole, the picture and sound quality (two surround tracks in 5.1 and 2.0) are more than acceptable and serve the film well. Subtitles are also offered in English and Spanish. The DVD really shines in the extras department, with a commentary by Zenovich and editor Joe Bini to kick things off. Intimate and talkative about the project (which took them five years to complete) from the word go, both venture into explicit detail about approaching people to be interviewed and what stylistic choices to be made to enrich the film. Also included are some deleted scenes, including one memorable one where Gunson returns to the actual courtroom and recounts some memories of the trial. Finally, we get some extra and extended interviews with many of Polanski's friends and colleagues who talk about the man and give their opinion on his return to the States.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is found not guilty and Zenovich is given a special commendation by the court for this masterwork. As for Polanski, if anyone sees him...GET HIM!
Review content copyright © 2009 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes