Roman Polanski survived the Holocaust in Poland, became an international sensation with his offbeat suspense films, and lost his pregnant wife in an attack by the Manson Family, but Marina Zenovich's documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired is primarily concerned with the details of Polanski's 1977 rape conviction and subsequent self-imposed exile from the U.S. The movie never denies or excuses the facts of the case. Zenovich includes lengthy excerpts from depositions, describing how Polanski gave champagne and Quaaludes to a 13-year-old girl before having sex with her. But Zenovich tries to fit the incident into Polanski's bizarre life story. Polanski was constantly scrutinized by the American and European press in the wake of the Manson murders, as reporters gauged the appropriateness of his mourning. Painted as a bad boy by many, Polanski started to live down to his reputation.
What many people have found surprising—and even controversial—about Wanted And Desired is the way Zenovich tries to justify Polanski's behavior after the incident. The documentary notes that Polanski's lawyers and the state's lawyers had hammered out a plea agreement that even the victim and her family were satisfied with, that Polanski had returned to court repeatedly when asked, and that he'd already served some time in jail. But the judge on the case had proven to be a showboat when TV cameras were around, and neither the defense team nor the prosecutors were sure that he'd hand down a sentence in accord with what they'd negotiated. Over the years, most of these details about the case have been forgotten, and people have come to assume that Polanski fled justice. In truth, Polanski was willing to submit to the California DA office's version of justice, but not to the whims of one unreliable judge.
Wanted And Desired falls short of being a great film because it lacks a certain ambition. If only Zenovich had dug deeper into the ways powerful men presume certain entitlements, or if she'd explored the uncomfortable gray area between consent and rape when minors and intoxicants are involved, or if she'd used Polanski as a metaphor for the end of '70s Hollywood decadence, then the movie might've resonated beyond its narrow concerns. Still, in contenting itself with the changing public perception of a long-misunderstood event, Wanted And Desired is compelling enough. Zenovich showcases the tortured life and contemptible behavior of a brilliant director, and revels in the circus he brought to town.