Posted: 06/10/2008


Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired


by Jef Burnham

Currently showing on HBO. Check your local listings.

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To those of us who were not yet born or old enough to remember, the reality of the incidents surrounding the Roman Polanski indictment of 1977 are shrouded by years of tainting by the media and the memories festering in the minds of those who followed it at the time. All that anyone had ever been able to tell me for sure was that he had sex with a minor and fled the country. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired brings together all of the key figures in the trial and Polanski’s life at the time to gives viewers all the pertinent information needed to make their own decisions about Polanski’s conduct and the validity of the trial.

For perhaps the first time ever, we are able to see just how much of a circus the trial actually was. The primary cause for the ultimate failure of justice in the case was the presided judge: one Judge Rittenband, a bizarre individual whose lust for media attention led him to stage a number of court sessions, going so far as to direct the attorneys on what to say, and treat both Polanski and his supposed victim unfairly, to the point of illegal conduct. I never would have believed how much of a mess the trial was until I saw this documentary. Even the prosecuting attorney tells interviewers that he sympathizes with Polanski’s fleeing from the country.

Wanted and Desired is a very successful documentary. The film provides information in a coherent manner throughout, and the filmmakers don’t overtly push any of their own opinions on the audience. Also, the film provides significant background on Polanski, from his life during the holocaust (during which his father was imprisoned at a concentration camp and his mother was killed by the Nazis) to his introduction in England to his future wife Sharon Tate (who was later murdered by members of the Manson Family), in order to show that Polanski is more than a man tied to an unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor conviction.

I understand why he wouldn’t want to talk about it yet again, but I would have liked to see a current interview with Polanski himself on the subject. Even his supposed victim was interviewed at length. This was the only letdown. However, the filmmakers provide a number of earlier interviews with Polanski discussing the trial.

Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic in Chicago.

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