Film : Twisting fiction and reality
"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" describes the brilliant filmmaker's convoluted legal problems, involving sexual impropriety, media exploitation, and a publicity-loving judge. The documentary is part of the Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival, and will play at the Chilmark Community Center on Wednesday, July 16, with producer Jeffrey Levy-Hinte in attendance.
Born in France and raised in Poland, Mr. Polanski is a Holocaust survivor who first won acclaim as director of "Knife in the Water." He lost his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, in the horrific 1969 Manson clan murders. American filmgoers know the director best for "Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby," and more recently, "The Pianist," which won him an Oscar.
While he is considered one of the world's finest filmmakers, tragedy and scandal have dogged Mr. Polanski's personal life. He was arrested in 1978 on charges of raping a 13-year-old model, briefly served time in jail on a plea bargain, and fled to France before the case was resolved. An outstanding warrant for his arrest in this country has kept him abroad for 30 years.
Marina Zenovich's film outlines the details of the Polanski rape case through interviews with him, his defense attorney, the prosecutor, the victim, and many others long after the case went through the courts. A title based on the conflicting views of Mr. Polanski in the U.S. and France, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" was nominated for the 2008 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and won an editing award there.
It is clear that the American justice system did not do well by Mr. Polanski. Viewers will have to decide for themselves the degree to which the director should have been punished for a crime he admitted to and then ran from.
The film begins with an interview in a restaurant, where the director admits, "I like young women." He is frank about what happened between him and the girl, whom he was photographing at Jack Nicholson's house. Drugs and alcohol were involved in what Mr. Polanski says was a night of consensual sex. Once the girl's mother brought charges, he was caught up in a judicial system where the judge, known as "the hammer," behaved as if he was part of the Hollywood celebrity scene.
Judge Laurence Rittenband, who himself dated much younger women, engineered deals between the prosecutor and defense attorney, leading to a plea bargain that might have meant probation and no jail time. When media coverage stirred up adverse public opinion, the judge decided to jail Mr. Polanski for a 90-day observation period. The rules and the deals changed repeatedly, until the director flew to France on business and decided not to return.
The question in Roman Polanski's situation is whether, after 30 years, he has adequately atoned for his crime. Both Ms. Zenovich and the victim believe he should be allowed to return to the U.S.
In addition to relying on talking heads, Ms. Zenovich intercuts scenes from Polanski films. It is easy to appreciate why she made this choice, since media coverage has frequently associated the director with a dark -- even satanic -- vision, based on films like "Dance of the Vampires" and "Repulsion," as well as "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby."
The effect is to raise questions about modern-day reality, mixed as it is with movie fiction and media representations. Nevertheless, such a blend may simply confuse the issue further. At any rate, the material is there for a lively discussion. The film begins at 8 pm.
The Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival continues weekly with an earlier, 5:30 pm screening of a children's film, as well as an evening feature with a special guest. This coming Wednesday features "The Point," about a kingdom where everybody has pointed heads except one little boy.
The documentary, "Talking Guitars," follows July 23, coupled with an earlier children's screening of "August Rush." New York Times film critic A.O. Scott will appear July 30, along with his choices for adults, "The Edge of Heaven," and for the children's screening, "The Red Balloon" and "White Mane."
August selections include "Under Our Skin" and, for children, "Fantasia," on August 13; "The One Percent" for adults; "Kids + Money," and "Kick Like a Girl" on August 20. The August 27 closing program features "The Trials of Darryl Hunt" for adults and "The Pipsqueak Prince" for children.
"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," Wednesday, July 16, 8 pm at the Chilmark Community Center, South Road, Chilmark. For children: "The Point," 5:30 pm. Adult tickets $10 ($5 for Martha's Vineyard Independent Film Festival members, seniors and kids). Adult tickets are for both films.