No film director has endured the same sort of unnecessary horrors as Roman Polanski, the subject of the intriguing documentary currently playing on HBO, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. What he is mostly defined by is the crime he committed against a 13-year-old, and for having been married to Sharon Tate, who was pregnant with their child the night she was murdered by the Manson family, and for making magnificent films like The Pianist, for which he recently won a Best Director Oscar, and Chinatown. He is also known for being a famous fugitive from justice and unable to return to the U.S. for fear of a public trial. What he is not known for is being the victim of an unfair trail, which is the basis for this film.
Directed by Marina Zenovich, Polanski: Wanted and Desired pieces together archival footage of Polanski as he confronts the media vultures after the Tate murders and during his trial for statutory rape and a variety of other charges. There are interviews and photographs, observations and insights. And there are truths that hadn’t been revealed, or at least magnified, until now. Namely, Polanski was under the charge of a fame-drunk judge who wanted to make a name for himself at the filmmaker’s expense.
Zenovich is careful not to make Polanski too sympathetic. There is never the impulse to blame the victim, just as Polanski never admits wrongdoing or expresses serious regret. What Zenovich does do, though, is frame Polanski’s crime within the context of his tragic life. No, it doesn’t excuse it, but it is worth consideration. Polanski’s early life was traumatic as he was left alone after his parents both died in the Holocaust. After Tate’s murder, he was accused by the press and Tate’s name was dragged through the mud. One of the most moving clips is Polanski being forced to give a statement to the press defending his wife and his love for her. His voice cracks as he explains that the years he spent with her was the only time in his life he was truly happy.
Polanski was clearly shattered after the Manson murders. How does anyone live through that? It was easy for the public to stand in judgment; it still is. His victim, Samantha Geimer, is featured in the film and has since publicly forgiven him (after a civil case against him was settled), and many of his fans have long since given up hating him. There are plenty of images of the young Geimer peppered through the film – the forbidden fruit. She also states in the film that she’s tired of people complaining about her mother as being the one to blame. Still, it is difficult to imagine how any mother could leave her daughter alone with someone like Polanski, no matter how confident and determined the girl was.
The film does a good job of representing all of the things that were wrong about the case without indulging in too many facts of the case itself; after all, we’ve all been doing that for decades and have concluded, mostly, that Polanski was a creep and a child molester. This film doesn’t ask you to conclude anything different, because it is about what happened after the incident, what no one talked about.The documentary is currently airing on HBO. A few months ago, the film snuck briefly into theaters with no fanfare in order to qualify for the Oscars.