Celebrity misdeeds have their day in the scandal sun, though some famous perps are hardwired to repeat ad infinitum. The resurgence three decades-plus later, however, of l’affaire Polanski is the subject of Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, Marina Zenovich’s New York Film Festival “Cinema Reflected” (about movies and moviemakers) documentary.
The fortuitous entrée to this consideration is the same director/narrator/co-writer and –producer’s longer HBO-BBC Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, a 2008 selection at Cannes and winner of two Emmys in addition to Sundance and NBR awards. Excited in her first Skype press conference/Q&A, Zenovich indicated that she is fed up with political films (as this follow-up turns out to be), which she likened to “working with found objects, where a lot of people don’t want to talk to you.” Only half-jokingly, she would like to move on to romantic comedy, in opposition to her son’s preference for a children’s movie.
The first film brought out things that even she had not grasped until the Polish Holocaust survivor French citizen’s defense team indicated their intention to use its footage to resolve the case that nevertheless they showed little confidence would actually be reopened. She herself then began work on the current, second film, but nine months later Polanski was arrested at the airport on his arrival to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival. Chronology is thereafter the printed numbers of days elapsed from then, up to two hundred twenty-six.
Only a few connected with the resurfaced legal farce would talk before the camera, so there is much archival and news material. An essential exception is Samantha Geimer (and her mother and husband), living in Hawaii and writing her own book, but in March 1977 the star-struck thirteen-year-old invited to a Paris Vogue photo session at Jack Nicholson’s house and, fed alcohol and Quaaludes, bedded by Polanski.
Surrounded by media frenzy, the trial that resulted was as surreal absurdist as the director’s works, marred by Santa Monica judge Laurence Rittenband’s mishandling in the face of political and publicity considerations. Defense pleaded “partial guilt,” to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor -- statutory rape -- as against forcible violation, and after seven weeks’ prison confinement for “psychiatric observation,” the visiting non-U.S. resident skipped, or “fled,” and returned to “hiding” in the open in Europe, where he is celebrated as a genius, albeit with a horrific past and troubled present.
RP:OMO cannot be faulted for not making much sense of the second round of senseless SoCal proceedings, before new judges, though Zenovich does note that stalemate persists because neither legal side will make concessions.
Across the pond, Swiss lawyers and newspeople wonder why their government only now has chosen to investigate, years after approving Polanski’s purchase of and subsequent stays -- and virtual house arrest -- in a Gstaad chalet. The seventy-six-year-old imprisoned and separated from much younger French wife Emmanuelle Seigneur and children, American justice has requested his extradition. While Bern debates and delays, ties are uncovered to money and politics in Washington’s concurrent pressure on banks like UBS to provide information on secret, tax-evasion Swiss accounts held by Americans.
The vitriolic reactions of interviewees in the street are shocking, as when one twenty-something spits out that the auteur should be confined together with Charles Manson. “Not intended to serve as an apology,” the film is even in its treatment, though most striking is the victim herself, Geimer at least claiming that, however reprehensible the crime, she and her family are not traumatized and would prefer to put it behind them and get on with their lives.
The energy and taxpayers’ dollars spent on celebrity trials is enormous. Whether such outlay is warranted is not the point, though one cannot but wonder. And marvel at Polanski’s equanimity and graciousness at a later Zurich Film Festival, where he is welcomed with applause and -- “not a joke”-- thanks his former jailers for their kind treatment.
The eighty-eight-minute watch of this individual case has limited appeal. Of greater general interest are issues raised about justice, politics, finance and fame. Resolution of such concerns must await society’s settling them.