Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008)

THE SCOOP
Director: Marina Zenovich
Plot: Marina Zenovich's new documentary examines the public scandal and private tragedy which led to legendary director Roman Polanski's sudden flight from the United States.


Genre: Documentary/Cr
ime
Awards: Won documentary film editing; Nom. for Grand Jury Prize (Sundance).
Runtime: 99min
Rating: NC16 for some mature themes.


TRAILER:







IN RETROSPECT


Poland has produced great filmmakers such as Andrzej Wajda (Ashes and Diamonds, 1958; Man of Marble, 1977) and Krzysztof Kieslowski (A Short Film About Love, 1988; Three Colors: Red, 1994) whose works address directly issues of war, politics, economic turmoil, and moral unrest that have affected their country since WWII. Their films take a serious, hard-nosed slant, and are mostly well-known only in film scholarship and festival circuits.

The other great Polish film director is Roman Polanski, who completes what I dubbed as the “holy trinity of Polish cinema”. He is known as the Polish Hitchcock, with films from his early career dwelling in the genre of horror, thriller, and mystery. He further established himself in America with unforgettable films such as Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974). He also became the first Polish filmmaker to win the Oscar for Best Director for The Pianist (2002).

The most controversial filmmaker to emerge from Eastern Europe of the last fifty years, not for his films (though some are) but for his widely-documented life story, Polanski is able to divide public opinion of him with just the mere mention of his name. This becomes the pursued theme of Marina Zenovich’s documentary feature Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, an above average film that is more informative than entertaining.

I will summarize his life story in one paragraph: A young Polanski escaped the horrors of WWII but the Nazis executed his parents during their brutal reign. He grew up to enjoy fine life, womanizing, and filmmaking. He was at the height of his career when his pregnant wife was murdered. His life crumbled even further when he was accused of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor (who much later publicly forgave him). He pleaded guilty but the trial was not ethically handled by Judge Rittenband. Polanski then fled the US and never came back.

Through my observation, Polanski is not really made the subject of Wanted and Desired. Rather, it is the handling of the trial that seems to be Zenovich’s primary focus. In the film, Polanski takes on the character that we are pressured to empathize with. Zenovich portrays him as a tortured person under too much media glare at that time, and his “escape” to France as a fugitive is seen as a liberating one.

Zenovich uses archival footage, and weaves them with interviews with key persons involved in the trial. Much of her film reveals the flawed, publicity-loving personality of Judge Rittenband, the unfair treatment of Polanski by the press, and the circumstances involving Polanski’s alleged sexual assault. In an unbalanced way, Wanted and Desired plays too much on the “Wanted” card, whereas the “Desired” part only comes out as such in the final fifteen minutes of the film.

My stand on the Polanski sexual scandal is that no matter the reputation of the accused, he or she should be sentenced accordingly. However, the suspect handling of the trial has raised concerns over the quality and ethicality of the US judiciary system. Polanski was right to flee the US under the circumstances. Now that he is arrested again in Switzerland for that case that goes back to more than three decades, the question to ask is: Is it really still worth pursuing?


GRADE: C+ 






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