During World War II, Roman Polanksi’s mother was killed while a prisoner at Auscwhich. In 1968, Roman Polanski directed the modern classic Rosemary’s Baby. In 1969, Roman Polanksi’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson’s followers. In 1974, Roman Polanski directed the modern classic Chinatown. In 1977, Roman Polanski was arrested for the sexual assault of a thirteen year old girl. In 1978, Romani Polanksi fled to France to avoid imprisonment for the sexual assault. In 2002, Roman Polanski won the Best Director Academy Award for The Pianist. Yep, all that happened in real life, to one dude.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is an impressively dense and thorough documentary that manages to cover a lot of this stranger than fiction life with surprising detail in its economical 99 minute running time. While around half of it is devoted to the sexual abuse trial, the other half really does give an in depth overview of what came before, with a brief prologue of what has happened since.
With a story so divisive, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired manages the tough job of never seeming to really take a side. At no stage did I get the impression that director Marina Zonvich sees Polanksi as a persecuted, artistic genius, or as a sickening paedophile who escaped justice to live the good life in France. It couldn’t have been easy to not take a side and show even a little bias in a story this polarising.
Having said all of that, it did make me feel a little more sympathy for Polanski. Not for what he did that night to a 13 year old girl in Jack Nicolson’s house, but for his decision to flee to Europe. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired intricately lays out the trial, piece by piece, including interviews with lawyers from both sides, and exposes the judge as being more interested in the fame he might achieve, than he was in the case itself.
Unfortunately, this documentary was made before Polanksi’s 2009 arrest in Switzerland and the US prosecutor’s unsuccessful attempt at extradition. So that major, recent addition to the bonkers story of Polanski’s life doesn’t get a mention, but that might be for the best. I can’t see how Zenovich could have found room for such a huge new chapter in this story. Maybe that’s a topic covered in 2011’s Roman Polanksi: A Film Memoir (although based on the trailer, it looks like a bit of a puff piece, wank job).
If you know anything at all about Polanski and the sexual assault case, you probably already have a firm opinion on the matter and I don’t think Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired will change that, no matter which side of the fence you fall on. What I do think it will do, is make you understand Polanski’s actions after the trial a little better. Has he been adequately punished for his crimes? This documentary isn’t interested in answering that question. And it’s that kind objectivity that makes it so interesting and effective.