Whatever your feelings may be about the Oscar-winning Polish filmmaker, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired should provide you with plenty of cocktail-party (or blogging) conversation points. Was Polanski a skanky pedophile, who deserved to have the book thrown at him for having sex with a minor? Or was he railroaded by a criminal justice system more concerned with politics, publicity and photo ops than with the alleged victim of the crime?
Marina Zenovich's documentary, a big hit at Sundance earlier this year, takes as nonpartisan an approach in weighing the evidence as possible. That clearheaded neutrality is sure to rile the anti-Polanski brigade. And Polanski's supporters may feel a little cheated that Zenovich refuses to take a stand one way or another. Fortunately, the evidence - and the numerous talking heads interviewed for the movie - is fascinating in its own right. In the summer of 1977, Polanski gave quaaludes and champagne to 13-year-old model Samantha Gailey before having intercourse with her.
Despite the fact that it was apparently consensual (as consensual as sex between an adult and a minor can be) and that Gailey made no bones about the fact that she was already sexually active before meeting Polanski, the authorities became involved after the girl's mother went to the police.
What happened next is a matter of public record and, according to Zenovich's film, one of the most stunningly blatant instances of judicial misconduct in Los Angeles County's notoriously checkered history.
My only real criticism of Wanted and Desired is that some of the material - including excerpts from an interview Polanski did with BBC telejournalist Clive James in Paris during the late '70s - seemed old hat. (The entire James interview is available as a DVD extra on Polanski's import-only film What?) But most viewers, particularly those unfamiliar with the details of the case and Polanski's self-imposed European exile these past 30 years, should find it as riveting as a top-drawer episode of Law & Order.