I recently was invited to watch a film on a private website, called Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir. The odd thing is the 90 minute long film’s been in release for two years. Nonetheless, watch it I did, and was mildly surprised that it was an enjoyable, if not penetrating, look into the career of one of the better filmmakers of the last half century: Roman Polanski. Even more odd than the film’s solid quality is the fact that it was directed by Laurent Bouzereau, a rather well known DVD documentary featurette hack.
Rather than simply do a doc that reuses film clips, Bouzereau takes the interesting tack of having Polanski engage in a conversation with long time collaborator and friend, Andrew Braunsberg. Naturally, this leads to some softball questions, especially regarding Polanski’s 1977 flight from American justice after drugging and raping a teenaged girl, named Samantha Geimer. Virtually every review mentions this fact, but, somehow forgets to mention that Geimer, herself (and as an adult), has long ago forgiven Polanski for the crime, and, on multiple occasions, in multiple media, declared that she was treated far worse by the legal system and media. Of course, this does not mean that the satyriac Polanski should not be looked at askancely, but a) virtually every major Hollywood producer and director in film’s Golden Age did the same, or worse, with no repercussions, and b) virtually every legal justice advocate has admitted that the judge in the case basically tried to invoke lynch law, and illegally tried to jail Polanski after he had served time, and admitted guilt.
So, on balance, the film is actually quite fair in contextualizing that incident in the continuum of Polanski’s life, whose other two major episodes of note include surviving the Holocaust in Poland, and the death of his wife, actress Sharon Tate, in the 1969 rampage of the Manson Family. Little is mentioned of the films and their artistic merit- a thing that SHOULD be foremost in any film memoir of this man. In this vein, the most interesting thing noted is how little Polanski thinks of his 1965 film masterpiece, Repulsion, in favor of his later Cul-De-Sac. Little is also made of his seemingly successful quarter century long marriage to actress Emmanuelle Seigner- a fact that should outweigh the earlier indiscretions and agonies.
This focus on Polanski’s crime and, to a lesser extent, sufferings and privations, shows that both the public and media fixate on the most irrelevant matters- things that to art and film historians, is mere trivia.
Nonetheless, the bulk of the film, done while Polanski was held under house arrest in Switzerland, under pressure from American authorities, until the Swiss government relented, and freed Polanski, deals with Polanski’s World War Two experience (well wrought by the man’s raconteurial expertise), and his entry into film under Poland’s Communist regime. Polanski and the film paint the man as a perpetual victim, and this is true, to a degree, but the director did live a life of drugs, sex, hedonism in excess, and that is glossed over. And that would be fine, were what replaces these facts were in depth probes into the very art that makes this film needed, in the minds of its makers, which include the director, Alexandre Desplat- who scored the film, Pawel Edelman- the cinematographer, and Jeff Pickett- the editor.
Alack, none comes, and the film sinks into mere interesting mediocrity. A shame, because Bransberg’s very closeness to Polanski should elicit far more than it does- the pabulum of years and memories dulled by intent.