I’ve been a huge fan of Polanski’s over the years, but I’ve never known much about the court case that ended with him fleeing the United States, never to return. It was all a bit before my time, so it’s great to see this well researched and thoroughly engrossing documentary by Marina Zenovich.
It focuses on the scandal in 1977 involving Polanski and a 13 year-old girl, Samantha Gailey. It seems that no one, including Polanski, ever denied that there was sexual activity between the two of them, and the film is more concerned with a blow-by-blow description of the trial that followed. The farcical nature of the case soon becomes apparent. The frenzied media on both sides of the Atlantic were working overtime, feeding different lines to their respective audiences; but it is the judge presiding over the case, Laurence J. Rittenband, who cops most of the blame, and perhaps it is a little unfair that he is the only person involved who doesn’t get to speak for himself (having passed away in 1993). According to everyone else, however, his handling of the case was atrocious, motivated by personal vendettas and ‘looking good’ for the cameras.
Surprisingly, this film has no voice overs. When we do get any off-camera description, it appears on the screen as if on a typewriter. In a strange way, this method keeps the audience hooked on every word. The majority of the film comprises interviews from people involved in the drawn out trial, from the legal team on either side, to Polanski’s colleagues and friends and even Samantha (now Geimer) herself. The strange thing is that everyone seems to be so damn sensible. Obviously, it’s easy to make sense of the chaos retrospectively, but both the defence and prosecution seem incredibly calm and rational people, not to mention Samantha herself, who seems to be have been more negatively affected by the investigating policemen and media’s handling of the case than the act itself.
The film also (rather cheekily) uses scenes from Polanski’s best known films to illustrate unspoken points, though usually for comedic effect. Hearing the lullaby-like theme to Rosemary’s Baby is more than a little unsettling when discussing a potential case of statutory rape, though it gets the point across. The film touches upon the most relevant aspects of Polanski’s private life, mentioning his family (victims of the holocaust) and the murder of his wife Sharon Tate, though going out of its way to avoid mentioning Charles Manson, perhaps in an attempt to stay focussed on the issue at hand.
Wanted and Desired is a fascinating glimpse into the private life of Polanski and how he was treated by the court system, and goes a long way to explaining just why he couldn’t be there in person to accept his Oscar.Rating: