Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
EmptySundance Film Festival
PARK CITY -- For movie lovers around the world, one of the saddest chapters in film history was the exile of Roman Polanski from the U.S. more than 30 years ago. Convicted of having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, Polanski fled the U.S. rather than risk serving extended jail time. Over the years, the case has become encrusted with media-created mythology. Now Marina Zenovich's thoroughly researched and beautifully crafted documentary revisits the case and introduces new evidence that suggests a gross miscarriage of justice. It's a compelling tale that should be a natural for film savvy cable outlets.
Zenovich does not argue that what Polanski did to 13-year-old Samantha Geimer was right, but she does present a compelling case that he was not treated fairly by the judicial system, especially by his trial judge, Laurence Rittenband. It's a complex story with many moving parts, and Zenovich gives context to the main drama by referencing Polanski's horrendous childhood fleeing the Nazis in Poland and the death of his mother in a prison camp.
But what really set the stage was the murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family. It's from this point on that Polanski became the center of a three-ring media circus and was identified by the public as a profligate dwarf. It was his misfortune to draw a judge that was always playing to the court of public opinion and saw himself as a director on the bench. One of the film's subtle points is the role the media played, as long ago as 1977, in influencing justice.
Even after Polanski's defense attorney Douglas Dalton and the district attorney Roger Gunson, and the victim herself, argued for a plea bargain, Judge Rittenband was determined not to appear soft on crime in the press. Breaking years of silence, Dalton and Gunson chronicle what became in Dalton's words a "surreal" scene. Polanski was examined by two court-appointed psychiatrists, one of whom testifies in the film, and deemed to not be a mentally deranged sex offender. But Rittenband still treated him as one.
Not knowing what to do with this thorny public relations nightmare, Rittenband sent Polanski off to Chino State Penitentiary, perhaps illegally, to undergo a further 90-day evaluation period, which was in essence a sentence more than a diagnostic measure.
Dalton and Gunson cite multiple instances where Rittenband prevailed on them to stage a dog-and-pony show for the benefit of the media to justify his handling of the case. And they also cite several occasions where Rittenband promised one thing only to change his mind at the last minute.
Finally, Polanski couldn't stand it anymore. In an archival British interview that appropriately opens the film, Polanski says he felt like he was a mouse being toyed with for sport. Again overreaching his jurisdiction, Rittenband said he would release the director from serving additional time if he waived his right to a deportation hearing and basically just left the country.
The machinations of his departure are well-documented as his then-employer Dino De Laurentiis reportedly slipped him some cash in a fateful Beverly Hills meeting. Perhaps the film's greatest revelation is a statement by Gunson, the man who spent months prosecuting Polanski, that he was not surprised the director left under those circumstances.
It really is an amazing story, and Zenovich does it justice. She includes dozens of interviews, and did dozens more she doesn't include. Except for some rare archival footage, such as a scene of Polanski on the set of "The Fearless Vampire Killers" directing Sharon Tate, the director was not interviewed for the film. But many people from his life appear as friendly witnesses, including Geimar. In addition, Zenovich and her crack editor Joe Bini expertly weave in telling scenes from Polanski's films that suggest his legal troubles were like something out of one of his dark and twisted movies.
Most people remember that Polanski left the country, but few know why and under what circumstances. "Wanted and Desired" finally sets the record straight, and, if there is any justice in the world, Polanski will be allowed to return to this country not as a pariah but as someone who made a mistake and has more than paid for it.
ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED
Graceful Pictures in association with the BBC presents an Antidote Films production
Director: Marina Zenovich
Screenwriters: Joe Bini, P.G. Morgan, Marina Zenovich
Producers: Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Lila Yacoub, Marina Zenovich
Executive producers: Steven Soderbergh, Randy Wooten
Director of photography: Tanja Koop
Music: Mark degli Antoni
Editor: Joe Bini
Running time -- 99 minutes
No MPAA rating