I have always had a relatively negative opinion of Roman Polanski the man. I now realize it all stemmed from my lack of complete knowledge based on his case in which he pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl and subsequently fled to France to avoid sentencing. I now realize that is not even half the story and with all the details now on the table I am finding it hard to judge Polanski anymore than he already has been.
Outside of the details I offer above, other details surrounding this case are relatively well known including the fact that both Polanski and Samantha Geimer, the 13-year-old involved, took at least half a tablet of Quaalude as well as had some champagne. Polanski was photographing the young girl for the French edition of Vogue and after the drinking and drugs Polanski and the girl had sex, and based on statements made it was not consensual. Reports would lead many to believe Polanski took part in the following trial only to flee once he realized sentencing could possibly put him behind bars for a very long time. The details as presented in Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired fill in some rather large gaps that put it all into an entirely different perspective.
Do I think Polanski is a creep for what he did? Certainly, and that will never change regardless of whether he serves time or not. There are laws in the United States forbidding underage sexual deviancy and in this case it would appear Polanski broke those laws. However, he did not avoid judgment. He stood trial and was ordered by Judge Laurence J. Rittenband to spend 90 days under psychiatric evaluation in Chino, where he ultimately spent less than 45 days and was let go under recommendation of probation, but it doesn’t end there as both the prosecuting attorney and Polanski’s lawyer agree Judge Rittenband was a publicity whore and was determined to make sure his image wasn’t tarnished by appearing weak. He wanted to be the one to put Polanski away and the only reason he recommended the 90 day evaluation in Chino as punishment was because he was told any attempt to sentence Polanski would simply end in an appeal, something no judge wants to see. The doc even has people claiming Rittenband asked a journalist for advice on what to do. Shocking is hardly the appropriate word.
You don’t have to believe Polanski is a good man to realize he stood trial and was ultimately treated unfairly. You get the impression he was being pushed and pulled around by a publicity seeking judge. It wouldn’t be such an effective argument had prosecuting attorney Roger Gunson not backed up every negative thing said about the judge and even goes as far as to say he doesn’t blame Polanski for fleeing. Even Samantha Geimer is interviewed and says the judge didn’t care about what happened to her or Polanski, only about his own image. I guess this is so shocking to me because I have been making an assumption that Polanski fled the country only to avoid sentencing (which he technically did), but once the whole story is put in front of you and you realize someone in power was actually out to get him you may begin thinking you too would have fled as well.
The doc is put together extremely well by director Marina Zenovich outside of a couple of moments where she tries to get a little too fancy when presenting documents for the viewer to preview, many times the words flash on the screen in a way not allowing the reader to catch up with what is written only to have it disappear before you actually get the whole story. However the doc never presents Polanski as someone you should be sympathetic toward based on the crimes he allegedly committed, instead the film presents the facts and lets the viewer be the judge.
I have always enjoyed Polanski’s films (The Pianist, Chinatown), but I still remain creeped out by a man that would take advantage of a 13-year-old girl, especially when considering drugs and alcohol were involved. However, it is difficult to not have sympathy for a man that also lost his mother in a World War II concentration camp, whose wife was savagely murdered by the Manson gang and was then part of a highly publicized and obviously poorly conducted rape case. All of this doesn’t make him innocent, but it certainly adds details to a story that has been overly simplified down to the dirty details over the past 30 years.