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"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" *** 1/2 (99 minutes)

Thursday September 18, 2008

It took director Marina Zenovich 5 years to complete this engrossing documentary which focuses mainly on the sensational trial surrounding the unlawful sexual encounter between the famed director and a 13 year old girl in 1977. When it became clear that the judge in this case, Laurence J. Rittenband, would possibly sentence him to jail time instead of granting probation, Polanski decided to flee the U.S. To this day, he has remained in exile in France. Marina has taken great care to present an unbiased work that chronicles the details of, what appears to be, a total travesty of justice. Most people do not know the ins and outs of the sensational trial and many will be shocked to see how one person (Rittenband) could shamelessly put his own ego way ahead of the scales of justice. The appropriate history is presented: the director's life as a French born who grows up in Poland only to have his parents slaughtered during the Holocaust; his early extraordinary success overseas as a director; his U.S. success at the helm of such masterpieces such as "Rosemary's Baby" & "Chinatown"; and, of course, his ill fated marriage to the late Sharon Tate. All this helps to create a certain amount of sympathy for the director who then makes the wrongful decision, no matter what the circumstances, to offer drugs and have sex with the underage girl. What really makes this all so fascinating is the access Marina has to virtually all the principals involved-including the now 34 year old victim. Although Polanski is not interviewed for the film, you won't notice as everyone from the victim, prosecutor, attorneys, to even the court reporter at the time (who astonishingly reveals that, at one point, Rittenband asked him how he should decide Polanski's fate). Correctly, Hollywood chose to honor his brilliance in absentia with the Best Director Oscar in 2002 for "The Pianist". The doc was presented by the filmmaker (brought in by folks at The Maryland Film Festival) who, at the Q & A, when asked if Roman saw it and, if so, what were his comments, said he approved by asking her about her next project. The film was purchased by HBO and was in limited release around the country earlier this year. It has already screened on the network and will show it again sometime in the future. This is an amazing well crafted account of one of the most curious episodes in Hollywood history. In the end, you can't blame Roman for his decision never to step on our soil again.