ROMAN POLANSKI: A FILM MEMOIR *** (out of five)
It’s extremely unlikely that anyone who’s not at least a minor fan of Roman Polanski’s work will pony up the twenty bucks (or whatever it is) to see this “film memoir” at the cinema; indeed, and ironically given the subject, it is not a particularly “cinematic” film, consisting of two simply-shot interviews with Mr. Polanski and short clips from his movies along with a treasure trove of archival footage and photographs – none of which demand much more than a home screen, which are all of course by now absolutely huge. But I suspect those that do love Polanski will want to see the object of their affection in the place he belongs – the cinema. They won’t get a film the way Roman would have directed it, but they’ll get a pretty amazing story, which is, simply, the story of Polanski’s life: it’s incredible, full of six lifetimes of incident.
Simply structured, the ninety minute film devotes its first third to Polanski’s gut-wrenching, insanely dangerous childhood in the Warsaw Ghetto; we proceed through his journey into the arts and film, and of course arrive at the Charles Manson-led murders of his wife and child; finally we proceed into his later life and work (and loves), a Portrait of The artist Now; throughout, the contaminating stain on his life – the crime he plead guilty to, fled from, and was arrested for once again, in his seventies – is woven skillfully, as it has woven through the life, disappearing for decades at a time then reappearing suddenly, a snake that, of course, has always been in the grass, simply lying quiet for periods at a time.
Polanski is interviewed in his house in Gstaad during his house arrest there a few years ago, and this gives the whole thing a weight beyond its light title of “a film memoir”. But a memoir it basically is: no-one else is interviewed. This is Polanski, essentially telling the story of his life, and what a story it is. When they film it, I want him to direct it. Except, in so many ways, he already has: the most astonishing thing about the film is how it presents clips from Polanski’s films that absolutely and directly hold a mirror up to his own experience. Once you realize that The Pianist is his childhood story, Adrien Brody’s character simply playing an older version of little Roman, do you realize just what this remarkable artist has suffered for that remarkable art.