ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED (Marina Zenovich, 2008)

The State of California put filmmaker Roman Polanski on trial in the late 1970s. The inaccurate phrase “alleged child rapist” is still sometimes attached to Polanski’s name. A plethora of counts had been leveled against Polanski, but the single count that existed in the plea agreement that made it possible for Polanski and his 13-year-old accuser to avoid trial is that of “unlawful sexual intercourse,” for which no more than probation might have been imposed by a fit and honest judge. Laurence J. Rittenband, though, was not such a judge. Given Rittenband’s shameless shenanigans, which blatantly denied Polanski anything resembling a fair trial, even the prosecutor, Roger Gunson, isn’t at all surprised that Polanski fled the United States for France. Rittenband may have been poised to sentence Polanski to fifty years’ imprisonment, which is to say, life (Polanski was 43 at the time), which he was overheard shouting in a country club men’s room he was going to do. Rittenband was eventually removed from the case.
     Marina Zenovich’s spellbinding documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is richly detailed, brilliantly edited, very satisfying. One is reminded how cruel the U.S. press was to Polanski after the brutal murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family. One interviewee wonders whether Polanski drew far less sympathy and pity than were his due because he was a heavily accented foreigner. Zenovich’s film also reminds us that the U.S. response in no way derived from Polanski himself, who was devastated by his loss and who carried, and still carries, the burden of his tragic childhood history with especial grace and pluck. The title refers to the fact that, although “wanted” by the law in the U.S., Polanski was “desired” and greatly admired throughout Europe.

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