Saturday, March 26, 2011

Polanski, the Victim? Review of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

This 2009 documentary by Steven Soderbergh and Marina Zenovich was fascinating and I learned quite a bit about Roman Polanski that I never knew because I hadn't followed his case that closely. I didn't know he was a Holocaust survivor and had lost his parents to the camps. I did know that his wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by the freakish Manson clan. And I imagine that all those hideous and traumatic incidents left a terrible and indelible mark on his psyche. But does this somehow justify drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl?

The production is far too sympathetic toward Polanski. Yes, it appears he had a judge who was obsessed with celebrities and his own fame and publicity. Yes, it looks as though his sentence was unfair, but even the original proposal to incarcerate Polanski for 90 days for a diagnostic was absurd. 90 days for taking a pubescent girl and giving her Quaaludes and sodomizing her? Please? What century are we living in?

Although the girl who was molested appeared on the show and spoke as an adult, I got the distinct impression that the message was "poor Roman", not "poor 13-year-old girl." At one point her prior sexual history was even mentioned -- disgraceful -- yet she clearly said that she had said *no* to him. Even if she had said *yes* and begged him to have sex with her, at 13, she didn't have the mental or legal ability to give consent.

The whole situation is very sad. If only Polanski had served out his time properly in the US, some of this would be behind him and perhaps he could have continued to be a wonderful director. People are complicated. Just because he committed a heinous act doesn't mean that he doesn't have redeeming qualities. He is brilliant and the French realize this. But one problem I had with the documentary is that it's not either or -- it's not that he is wanted in America and desired in Europe where he has won awards, so the Americans are wrong and prudish. It's that he has complex human traits that make him phenomenal in some respects and ugly in others.