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Originally published Friday, July 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired": A revered director, a girl, a media circus — and no easy answers

Marina Zenovich's documentary examines the 1977 trial of filmmaker Roman Polanski, who pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and then fled the country.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars

"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,"a documentary by Marina Zenovich. 100 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. SIFF Cinema, through Thursday.

Roman Polanski ("The Pianist," "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown") is unquestionably a great filmmaker, but as Marina Zenovich's documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" perhaps unintentionally demonstrates, he's also a creep. In 1977, Polanski pleaded guilty (as part of a plea bargain) to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, one of six charges filed against him. Thirteen-year-old Samantha Geimer, whom Polanski was photographing for a magazine, said in a California court that the filmmaker (then 43) gave her champagne and Quaaludes and raped her. Polanski fled the U.S. prior to sentencing and has never returned. The case remains unresolved.

These are the bare facts of the long-ago case, and Zenovich fills them out with vintage news footage and new interviews with attorneys from the trial; several friends of Polanski; and Geimer herself, now a mother of three clearly hoping to put this story behind her. There's no new comment from Polanski, though Zenovich includes much footage of him, including an undated interview with Clive James in which he's asked about his attraction to young girls. "I like young women," he says. "What exactly would you like me to tell you?" He smiles, enigmatically and smugly. We're shown his testimony describing the incident, filled with self-justification and emphasizing the 13-year-old's willingness (which Geimer's testimony disputes).

Though Zenovich avoids openly taking sides in the film, "Wanted and Desired" does come off as something of an apology for Polanski — or, more precisely, a refocusing of the lens. Its target is not so much the crime as the media circus and legal shenanigans that rose up around it. Polanski here becomes the victim; Geimer fades into the background. Zenovich even takes pains to point out that the case's controversial judge Laurence J. Rittenbrand (whose courtroom actions were, indeed, questionable at best) had a 20-year-old girlfriend; showing us photos of the woman as if dwelling on her youth and Rittenbrand's hypocrisy. Does Zenovich really mean to equate a 20-year-old with a 13-year-old? If so, does she have any business making documentaries?

Friends face the camera and defend Polanski; one states emphatically, "This is somebody who could not be a rapist," while others blame the media, the judge, the girl's mother — everyone but the filmmaker himself. It's impossible not to have sympathy for Polanski because of the tragedies of his earlier life — his family's persecution by the Nazis during the Holocaust, his wife Sharon Tate's brutal 1969 murder. (Tate, hauntingly beautiful, is shown here in a few brief clips.) But I watched this film with my sympathies elsewhere. Geimer, who's been hounded by the media much of her life and yet here shows little self-pity, expresses some exasperation with those who seek to deflect the blame. "You weren't there," she says quietly. "You don't know."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725

or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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