It's a damn good plot for a movie: a Polish immigrant (and childhood Holocaust survivor) comes to America to find fame and fortune as a film director. His beautiful new wife is gruesomely slaughtered in one of the most famous murders in American history. Later, he is charged, tried, and convicted for having sex with a 13-year-old girl—but before he can be sentenced, he flees the country to live in exile in Europe.
Roman Polanski has directed a lot of great movies, including the comically macabre Rosemary's Baby and the genuinely dark Chinatown, but his own life story is as chilling and dramatic as any of his films. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is documentarian Marina Zenovich's absorbing examination of the legendary director, a diminutive and charismatic figure who has been adored by the artistic community (still in exile, he won an Academy Award for 2002's The Pianist) but mistrusted, and not without good reason, by the American public.
The 1969 murder of Polanski's pregnant young bride Sharon Tate by the Charles Manson clan—and its devastating effect on the director, which informed his brutally horrifying 1971 adaptation of Macbeth—is given ample screen time, but Zenovich's primary focus is Polanski's 1977 trial. Almost all the key players of the trial are interviewed for the film—notably the young victim, who, as an adult, seems to have begrudgingly made peace with her past. But the two most interesting interviewees are Polanski's defense attorney, Douglas Dalton, and the prosecutor from the district attorney's office, Roger Gunson. Shockingly, they're both articulate and sensible individuals—not slimebag lawyers—and they both agree that the presiding judge, the now-deceased Laurence Rittenband, corrupted the judicial system because he was more concerned with his own pseudo-celebrity.
With a careful attention to detail, Wanted and Desired follows the ins and outs of the trial without getting bogged down in minutiae. It's a controversial and contentious story, and while the film is generally sympathetic to Polanski, it refuses to exonerate him. The audience can only be certain of a few things: (1) Roman Polanski was, and is, a genius filmmaker. (2) Polanski definitely had illegal sex with a 13-year-old girl. (3) Before she was killed, Sharon Tate was smokin' hot. (4) Something went wrong in that courtroom, and Polanski's subsequent exile ensures it will likely never be resolved.