Wanted and Desired
Directed by Marina Zenovich. Featuring: Douglas Dalton, Mia Farrow, Roger Gunson and Samantha Geimer. 99 min. Rating N/A.

One of the most important things to know about Roman Polanski is that he is among the greatest film directors to emerge in the ’60s, with Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, The Tenant and The Pianist among his achievements.

Another is that his life has been marked by tragedies of almost unbearable magnitude: being torn from his Jewish family as a child during World War II; surviving, but learning that his parents had been killed by the Nazis; having finally achieved success and happiness in Hollywood, only to have it shattered when the Manson family brutally killed his wife, Sharon Tate, and their unborn child; and having to endure sleazy press accounts suggesting he was somehow behind the killings.

A third is that he raped a 13-year-old girl.

Feel free to order those bullet points as you will.

Polanski’s story is so familiar that the broad outline doesn’t need to be repeated for readers of a certain age. But the value of Marina Zenovich’s documentary is that it fills in a lot of crucial details (including a few new ones), primarily about the rape and its aftermath.

The moral complication is that, although there is no disputing that rapist Polanski drugged, came on to, and finally physically forced himself on Samantha Gailey who, even in the absence of those factors, would have been too young to make any sort of informed consent, there is also little disputing that defendant Polanski got royally fucked over by the legal system. In new interviews, Assistant D.A. Roger Gunson, defense attorney Douglas Dalton and Gailey’s attorney, Lawrence Silver, relate how Santa Monica-based Judge Laurence Rittenband adjudicated the case based on how he himself would look in the media.

Rittenband even went so far as to orchestrate, in chambers, a series of dog-and-pony shows — with the attorneys barking and neighing — to enable Polanski to serve minimal time without looking like the judge was going soft on a celebrity. And when some coincidences and non-criminal poor judgment on Polanski’s part caused a new press uproar, Rittenband simply welshed on the agreements that all the parties — including the girl’s family and attorney — had reached. You can be enraged at Rittenband’s utterly unethical decisions without abandoning your loathing of what Polanski did.

One of the main participants in Zenovich’s film is Samantha Gailey Geimer herself, now a happily married middle-class wife, mother and realtor’s assistant, who, in an L.A. Times Op-Ed piece in the late ’90s, essentially spoke on Polanski’s behalf regarding his legal situation. Here, as in other interviews in the last decade, she reiterates her position: “Straight up, what he did to me was wrong. I think he’s sorry, I think he knows it was wrong. I don’t think he’s a danger to society. I don’t think he needs to be locked up forever and no one has ever come out ever — besides me — and accused him of anything …. I’m sure if he could go back, he wouldn’t do it again. He made a terrible mistake, but he’s paid for it.”

The way Zenovich has organized the material verges on a polemical plea in Polanski’s favor, which is likely to infuriate some viewers. The issue is largely a theoretical one at this point: The only real restriction his legal status has put on him is that he can’t return to the U.S. without being immediately arrested. But he has also expressed very little interest in returning. He has managed to establish a happy life in France with his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, and two children, one of whom, a daughter, is now slightly older than Geimer was at the time. I’d like to think that raising a daughter may have driven home the heinousness of his behavior even more forcefully.   

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired screens at the Ojai Playhouse Theatre (145 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, 646-1011) on Aug. 16 at 4:30 p.m. at part of the theater’s Summer Documentary Film Series. For more information, visit www.ojaidocs.org.