Roman Polanski: A film Memoir – Laurent Bouzereau let’s the camera roll. (Film Review)
I’ve always felt conflicted about loving Roman Polanski films. It was a Polanski film (Death and the Maiden) that first left me spellbound in a cinema, staring at the film in disbelief immediately hungry for m0re cinema. Once I got hold of Cul-de-sac, Revulsion and The Tennant, I couldn’t help but admit he was one of my favorite contemporary directors.
However – that is a statement you are not allowed to make in polite company.
Because of the Samantha Geimer sexual assault charge and subsequent fleeing of the country, an event that took place thirty-six years ago, Polanski is forever seen through the lens of his criminal activities. This poses a very difficult question -at least one I grapple with a great deal – about the relationship between a work of art and the morality of the artist. My position on this is now to take each case as it comes. But for some reason with Polanski, it felt inappropriate to praise him as a director. In my heart, I sympathized with Polanski. With my voice, I never praised any of his films without acknowledging his crime. Despite the repeated pleas for understanding, the complex nature of his relationship with the American judicial system, the film Roman Polanski Wanted and Desired, and even the victim coming out and making a statement on the Larry King show that the actions of the media and the way they have treated her and the case are far worse than anything Polanski did, we still can’t get over what “we know almost nothing about” that happened over thirty years ago.
There is something in “us” that loves to hate Roman Polanski.
Even with the Sharon Tate murders, Polanski was not only seen as a suspect prior to the discovery of Manson and his “family”, but he had to push the police and offer reward money to get proper action taken to find who the real murderers were. Polanski speaks openly about how shocked he was to see Tate herself blamed for her own murder in the press – she was 8.5 months pregnant and sitting in her own home – He was in London working on a project that had gone overdue. Despite the similarities in the case of the LaBianca murders next night, the fame and status of Polanski and Tate prevented the murders from being seen as anything other than drug related. Even in an article in The Guardian about this film, written by Peter Bradsaw in May last year, his closing statement implies Polanski may have had something to do with the Tate murders. “But those films were created by a dark, troubled, brilliant film-maker – a persona replaced, here, by a more statesmanlike figure who prefers to revisit an historical era of childhood which, however tragic and horrifying and traumatized, appears more important, and is the one in which his own innocence was absolute.” Surely Polanski’s innocence is absolute in the Tate murders? Surely there is only one event in his incredibly tumultuous life with which his own guilt can be associated?
It’s almost as if we enter the film being prepared to stare him down over any attempt to defend or explain himself. And when he does neither, just gives a brief account of his version of events in the Tate murder and the Geimer assault, we nod wisely and feel disappointed, but keen to leave the cinema with negative judgements in tact.
The film dwells mostly on Polanski’s devastating childhood, and remarkably, how much of The Pianist is derived from his youth. Polanski used many moments he witnessed while struggling for survival in occupied Poland during the war in the film, and Bouzereau cleverly splices the shots from the film in with Polanski’s narrative. It’s book ended with him waxing lyrical about how happy, satisfied and settled he feels now with Emmanuelle Seigner and their two children.
Polanski cuts an impressive figure here. He is genuine, warm and the intelligence shines from his eyes with a glow. He tears up a little on command – but maybe that is me exhibiting more of that cynicism we all seem to bring any time Polanski tries to speak about himself. I for one, was enthralled with the story (Polanski is a fabulous raconteur) and it left me feeling that adoration of his films can be spoken about freely with no need for a caveat or referencing the directors private life.
It is private, after all.