January 19, 2008

Sundance. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired "He grew up in terrible conditions; he directed great movies; his wife was murdered; he fled the country; he made some more good movies. Roman Polanski's life story sounds like it would make a great film, and Marina Zenovich focused on one aspect to make her documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," writes Peter Martin at Cinematical. "The film had its World Premiere at Sundance on Friday night, and instantly sparked a bidding war. The Weinstein Co won, according to Variety."

Updated through 1/25.

For Karina Longworth, writing at the SpoutBlog, the doc "rides a shaky line between critiquing media seduction and engaging in it.... Wanted and Desired convinces that this seemingly trivial footnote in cinema history is actually a story about the media’s role in turning the very idea of justice into a farce. Zenovich goes some way towards crafting a valuable historical document, but its credibility on that front is weakened by its clearly imbalanced sympathies."

"The film has lengthy interviews with the victim, the attorneys, the prosecutors, and the policmen involved in the case - but not Polanski himself - and teaches a great deal about what actually happened," notes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "Polanski was dead wrong of course, but the second villain in the case was the oddball judge who ate up the publicity it engendered with a big spoon."

For Variety's Justin Chang, this is "a mesmerizing portrait of the director as acclaimed artist and tortured human being.... Judge Laurence J Rittenband is one of the few figures involved with the case not interviewed here and, unsurprisingly, emerges as the true villain of the piece. He comes across as a self-aggrandizing sleaze.... Zenovich cleverly if somewhat glibly underscores its psychological insights with clips from the director's films, sampling from Repulsion, Knife in the Water, Chinatown, The Tenant and, most prominently, Rosemary's Baby, whose own horrific rape scene and haunting lullaby (a remix of which plays over the end credits) here convey a sense of innocence violated. Best use of all, however, is of his 1961 black-and-white short film The Fat and the Lean, which wittily sums up the relationship between Rittenband and Polanski."

Updates, 1/20: "Polanski's story is really two stories," writes Tom Hall. "The story of a brilliant artist whose life is shattered by a series of tragedies (the death of his mother in a Polish Concentration Camp, the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate by the Manson family) and the story of a manipulative playboy whose outrageous desires run him afoul of American law. Polanski is both men at once, and Zenovich understands the fractured relationship between Polanski's dark, creative impulses, the horrors that he endured in his personal life, the charming smile he wore for the cameras and his seductive qualities as a brilliant artist living in hard-partying Hollywood. As Zenovich paints him, you'd think Polanski is capable of doing something terrible while also sensing he couldn't hurt a fly." All in all, "a gorgeously assembled record of the era and it features some incredible footage put to brilliant use."

"Even for those familiar with the general details of the case," writes Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab, "Wanted and Desired will likely prove revelatory."

"Perhaps the most fascinating fact (and this was something I did not know) came in the reveal that, when a new judge was assigned to the case in 1997, he agreed to throw out the charges if Polanski were to return to the States - on one condition: that the hearing be televised. Because of that, Polanski decided against coming back," notes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "And who can blame him?"

Updates, 1/24: "Zenovich doesn't make excuses for Polanski's crime, one that would almost certainly be prosecuted with even more fervor today, in the age of To Catch a Predator and Megan's Law," writes Rebecca Winters Keegan for Time. "But she does make a compelling case that Polanski was the victim of a kind of 70s version of celebrity justice. 'People have been more interested in the lurid details, because this is such a sensational case,' says Zenovich. 'This part of the case somehow got lost.'"

"[W]hat makes this exercise truly remarkable is Zenovich's thorough knowledge of Polanski's canon and the ways she subtly argues that the exorcism of one's basest and most deviant desires belongs in a realm of artistic expression and not in the arena of the flesh-and-blood," writes Josh Slates at Hammer to Nail.

Updated, 1/25: The Guardian's Danny Leigh comments on reactions to the doc so far, including David D'Arcy's: "Ugly as it is, the post does highlight the eternal conundrum of whether and to what extent our feelings towards a filmmaker are coloured by their personal failings."

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Posted by dwhudson at January 19, 2008 4:35 PM


"a Polish Concentration Camp". It should be "a Nazi Concentration Camp"

Posted by: at January 21, 2008 10:18 PM