Wanted and Desired takes aim at Roman Polanski and the culture of celebrity

"I like young women, as do most men, I think," Roman Polanski confesses in the opening sequence of Marina Zenovich's fascinating new documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. Few artists could recite such a controversial preamble as convincingly as this infamous auteur, loved and reviled with equal fervor after a 45-year career. While it focuses on the Hollywood rape scandal that enveloped Polanski in the spring of 1977, and his subsequent flight from the law, Wanted and Desired doesn't portray the oft-demonized director as a villain or a victim. Instead, it renders him as an inscrutable outsider and poète maudit.

Through an excellent assortment of press footage and interviews, including talks with alleged rape victim Samantha Geimer, Zenovich reviews if not reopens California vs. Roman Raymond Polanski. She does so with a meticulous eye toward correcting inconsistencies and misconceptions. Polanski was no stranger to tragedy and controversy. As a young boy, he survived the Holocaust on the streets of Krakow after most of his family was shipped to Auschwitz. After a successful career in London and Hollywood in the 1960s, he was again devastated when his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson's "family." By the '70s, Polanski had a licentious reputation, abetted by his dark, often Faustian films.

Enter 13-year-old Geimer, a California innocent pushed by her ambitious mother into a nude photography shoot with Polanski. The events of the night that followed would haunt the director and his young victim for decades.

Some critics will probably deride Wanted and Desired as pure hagiography, or worse yet, a legitimization of Polanski's crimes and subsequent fugitive status. But Zenovich's intentions circumnavigate any idol worship, as her refusal to err toward his guilt or exoneration makes clear. Rather, Wanted and Desired's stinging invective of Hollywood justice places much of the blame on a starstruck media and judiciary. As if fulfilling Polanski's dystopic vision, the film leaves us repeating some prophetic words from Chinatown (1974): "I see you like publicity ... well, you're going to get it." Polanski, ever the outsider, remains at large.


Opens Fri/25

Roxie Film Center

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