Without question Roman Polanski has lead an extraordinary life. Born in France and having moved to Poland at a young age, Polanski managed to survive the holocaust, a fate not shared by his parents. He had several acting roles in the burgeoning post-war Polish film scene before relocating to London in the 60s. He soon made the leap to Hollywood where he established himself as one of the premier directors, bringing us two of the all time great films--Rosemary’s Baby (repeatedly scared the crap out of me and my sister on the old Zenith) and Chinatown. But fate has not always been kind to Polanski. His house was the site of one of the infamous Manson murders, his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, being one of the victims. And when the mid 70s rolled around, Polanski was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. Ultimately he pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual acts with a minor and fled the country to escape sentencing. In short, Polanski is simply one of the all time great directors with a personal life full of drama, filled with highs, lows, intellectual pursuit and sensationalism.
Needless to say I was pretty excited to check out the HBO doc Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired and I walked away thoroughly satisfied. Be forewarned however, Wanted focuses primarily on Polanski’s rape trial. Fortunately, from the film's title to the opening archival interview with Polanski, the film clearly indicates which path it’s going to take. Wanted is not an in depth look at the man’s life and film career. The rape incident, the scandal and the subsequent trial are the spine of the movie and any investigation of other facets of his life, including his filmmaking prowess, spring from that perspective. The film, edited by Joe Bini (Grizzly Man), deftly weaves archival interviews with Polanski, vintage news footage and press conferences, clips of Polanski’s films, and current day interviews with Polanski cohorts and all the principles in the drama with the exception of Polanski. The film does a very sweet job incorporating Polanski film scores into the film as well. All told, Wanted does an excellent job exploring Polanski’s indiscretions, the resultant court proceedings and dissecting the scandal from both an American and European perspective. Given the lurid nature of the scandal, the film is thankfully lacking the sensationalistic drive that so many recent bio-pics have when exploring artists with dicey pasts. This film tries to get at the core of what Polanski was thinking, how he was subsequently portrayed in the media, and the toll the case took on the people at the core of the drama.
Would I have liked to see a film that focused more on his moviemaking? Yes. Would I have liked to see a film about how he got involved in filmmaking in Poland? Yes. Would I have liked to see how he got the courage to leave Poland? Yes. How he made the transition to filmmaking in America? Yes. Would I have preferred a film that focused on the making of Chinatown instead of the making of Hurricane, the crappy Dino De Laurentiis movie he made during the trial to cover court costs? Yes. But that isn’t what this film is or claims to be. I still think there's room for a prequel. Most of Polanski’s greatness as a filmmaker, and the reason we ultimately care about this story, takes place prior to 1976, the point where Wanted takes off.