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TH!INKFilm presents
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008)

"Do you think there's something more to my life than my relations with young women?"
- Roman Polanski

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: February 13, 2009

Stars: Roman Polanski
Director: Marina Zenovich

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:39m:49s
Release Date: January 27, 2009
UPC: 014381526523
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB+B B+

DVD Review

One need not excuse or minimize what happened between Roman Polanski and a 13-year-old girl in Jack Nicholson's pool in 1977 to recognize that Polanski has led an extraordinarily complicated and morally challenging life. He escaped the Third Reich; his wife, 8 1/2 months pregnant with their first child, was brutally slaughtered by disciples of Charles Manson; he's had enough sorrow for a handful of lives, though that doesn't make it all right for his Humbert Humbert streak, thanking heaven for little girls. This fair-minded and gripping documentary is an extraordinarily thorough look at what happened to Polanski in Southern California in the late 1970s, both in a Santa Monica courtroom and in the court of public opinion. It's a morality play with all sort of shades of gray, and it's a fascinating watch.

The facts of the case don't seem very much in dispute: Polanski took a 13-year-old to Nicholson's home on Mulholland Drive, ostensibly for a photo shoot, and shortly thereafter they had sex. Does this make Polanski a child rapist? There's something vaguely sinister about him in the archival footage—even the most charitable would recognize that he's a man who largely keeps his own counsel. Director Marina Zenovich and her team have done a remarkable job not only in tracking down some amazing archival footage, but in persuading almost all of the surviving players in the tale to sit for new interviews. (The notable exception to this is Polanski himself.) What's striking is how similar the accounts are from Roger Gunson, the prosecutor, and Douglas Dalton, Polanski's defense attorney; perhaps most galvanizing of all is the interview footage with Samantha Gailey, the girl in question, now in her 40s, the mother of 3. (She was unnamed for decades; the spurious though perversely intriguing rumor circulating for years was that the girl in question was in fact Justine Bateman, before the Mallory years.) A couple of outliers want to turn this into a cheap tawdry Hollywood tale, for their own reasons—most prominent among them may be Philip Vannatter of the LAPD, familiar to a later generation as one of the arresting officers in the O.J. Simpson case.

The documentary doesn't shy away from Polanski's dark side—he had to endure things that seem absolutely unendurable, like being the principal suspect in his wife's murder, according to the tabloid headlines, at least. But the director isn't the villain of the piece—that prime piece of casting is reserved for Lawrence Rittenband, the judge presiding over the case. He's monstrous, a limelight hog and celebrity hound who makes Lance Ito look like a wallflower; and he was stupid enough to solicit advice about the case from members of the paparazzi, who relate the tales in jaw-dropping wonder nearly thirty years after the fact. (Rittenband died a dozen years ago, and hence isn't here to defend himself.) Polanski's predilection for underage girls is repellent and what he did to Gailey deserves punishment; but nobody warrants the double dealing and the dog-and-pony shows that Rittenband tried to orchestrate, almost exclusively so that he could pad out his scrapbook with prominent and favorable clippings.

The film shows an appreciation for Polanski's work as well, though the cross-cutting between his movies and his life can seem a little heavy handed. (There's lots of Rosemary's Baby stuff around the Tate murder, for instance, and the necessary inclusion of Polanski's indelible cameo in Chinatown.) Even if you've got just a passing familiarity with Polanski you probably know how this ends—the director flees to Europe to avoid the long arm of the law, and still isn't permitted to return to his adopted homeland, not even to collect his Oscar for The Pianist. Knowing where it's headed doesn't sap the story of its drama, though, especially as you realize, as the prosecutor points out, that the director is living out his life as if it were a Polanski film, with the twin themes of water and corruption.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Pretty clean transfer; even the archival news footage (which is voluminous) fares pretty well here, though there's some occasional discoloration in the newer interview footage.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The scoring is sometimes laid on a little thick (the musical excerpts from Rosemary's Baby especially), but it's all reasonably intelligible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Encounters at the End of the World, Blackout, Blindsight, American Fusion, This Is Not A Test
5 Deleted Scenes
37 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Marina Zenovich and editor Joe Bini
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There's a bonanza of supplementary material, and the quantity can be a little overwhelming. The director and editor provide an excellent commentary track, providing us with a history of the project's development, and the legwork, arm-twisting and just plain begging that goes into a movie like this. Their excitement for found footage feels genuine and is contagious—the shots of Polanski being led off to a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation in a California prison, for instance, are amazingly poignant.

Five deleted scenes seem to have ended up on the cutting room floor because they provide little more than atmosphere, mostly about the Santa Monica courthouse where much of the action took place. In a section of additional interviews, the focus is on the women and men of the law, so if you want to hash out the legal aspects, you can find your attorney of choice here. Twenty one featurettes comprise a section called Friends and Colleagues Talk About Polanski, and among the most prominent are Mia Farrow, Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne, and agent extraordinaire Jeff Berg. Writers on Polanski features F. X. Feeney, Joan Dupont, and David Thomson, whose name is misspelled on the Extras menu; and finally, almost all of those interviewed speculate on the one crucial remaining question (7m:44s): Will He Ever Come Back? The consensus is: probably not.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

A taut, gripping account of a nauseous case, the result of tremendous cinematic detective work and undoubtedly a remarkable capacity for persuasion.


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