Five years ago, Roman Polanski won an Oscar for directing The Pianist. But he couldn't attend the Academy Awards ceremony, because had he entered the United States, he would have been arrested as soon as his plane touched down. Or so the excuse went. While the scenario might have indeed played out that way, the story of his hypothetical incarceration was at that time more a part of the legend of Polanski than it was a matter of truth. More hearsay and speculation than complete fact.
Now the difference between that legend and the lesser-known truth is exposed in the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. And basically it's the gap between a generalized truth and the whole truth. So, yes, as we all heard and/or discussed at our Oscar parties five years ago, Polanski was in fact a fugitive, having fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. But there is so much more to the story than just that.
Filmmaker Marina Zenovich, assisted by Werner Herzog's current editor, Joe Bini, and screenwriter Peter G. Morgan, takes us back thirty years to the infamous departure with the intention of clarifying what exactly happened, both on the date of Polanski's crime and in the subsequent eleven months leading up to his decision to skip out before his final sentencing. And then they also continue back even further, turning Wanted and Desired into a mix of trial documentary and biographical documentary.
We're only given as much of a profile on Polanski, though, to aid in our own judgment of his character at the time of the trial. You may not accept that his tragic life (or "bad luck," as an interviewed detective understatedly sees it), which prior to the crime included his loss of his mother to the Holocaust and the murder of his pregnant wife by the Manson Family, justifies statutory rape, yet the filmmaker's past should be of interest regardless. Plus, the film doesn't mean to use Polanski's background as defense against his crime so much as it is part of the explanation of why he chose to jump ship on the U.S. justice system.
Wanted and Desired primarily lays out the impact of the media on Polanski's trial, pointing out that there were actually two kinds of press covering the story: to the Americans he was a villain -- a rich, short foreigner who came over and defiled a little girl; to the Europeans he was a celebrated artist facing a terrible ordeal. In a way, the foreign press actually did more harm to the girl than to Polanski. They even printed her yearbook photo and her name (Samantha Gailey), which of course got out to people at her school, affecting the way people treated her, etc.
Through the biographical document of Polanski, Zenovich shows that Polanski had already had great reason to distrust the conservative American press, which, due to the content of his films, considered him to be involved in satanic activity. When his wife, Sharon Tate, was killed, he was immediately alleged to be involved, and she was "reported" to have deserved her fate.
Meanwhile, in the document of the trial, the press is also to blame for how absurd the proceedings went, due to publicity-hungry and media-responsive Judge Laurence Rittenband, who consistently reneged on promises and pre-planned court proceedings, much of which is only now revealed in this film by way of interviews with former District Attorney Roger Gunson and Polanski's Defense Attorney at the time, Douglas Dalton (Rittenband passed away in 1994).
In addition to their testimonies, the other substantial interview in Wanted and Desired is with the "girl", now in her 40s and named Samantha Geimer. However, this isn't her first time coming out about the details of the incident nor is it her first public display of forgiveness. Still, her appearance is enormously beneficial to the film. Considering there is no new interview with Polanski (there are at least a few clips from post-trial that are almost sufficient enough), Geimer's involvement really anchors the documentary, regardless of whether or not she provides any previously unheard confessions or facts.
On the other hand, Zenovich also includes an unnecessary and even distracting (because she really looks terrible here) interview with Mia Farrow. If Wanted and Desired has to feature any celebrity testimony then Jack Nicholson should be front and center, because the crime occurred at his residence (he was out of town at the time). And if he's unavailable or unwilling (whichever the reason for his lack of involvement), then the rest of the talking heads are plenty adequate.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired will not convince you that Polanski is a good or bad guy, it won't argue that his having sex with a minor was wrong or OK (as far as matters, it was against the law) and it won't prove that Polanski was innocent or guilty (he already admitted guilt in his plea in 1977). But it may get you thinking about why exactly he couldn't be here to accept his Oscar, what is the fault of his having to flee. Does it go back to Tate's murder? Or further? Was it the media? The legal system? The corruption of Rittenband? Or a deep conspiracy administered by Susan's actress mother? The answer is not exactly found in the film, though, which is fine when you think about what an exhaustive and riveting narrative Zenovich and company have compiled out of the events.