Friday, September 21, 2012

Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out [film review]

Director Marina Zenovich follows up her acclaimed 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired (read my review here) with the intriguing, if slightly less impactful Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, which had its world premiere at TIFF. Wanted And Desired brilliantly dissected the details of Polanski's mishandled 1977 statutory rape case, the filmmaker's subsequent fleeing of the U.S., and his life since that time. Odd Man Out adds further perspective and insight into the man and his case, while also examining the unforeseen effects that the preceding film had on both Polanski's and Zenovich's lives. Even considering the evolution of the story with Polanski's unexpected 2009 arrest in Switzerland on an American warrant and his subsequent imprisonment, I was mildly skeptical as to whether or not the filmmaker merited another feature-length doc from the same director so relatively soon after the first one. The excellence of Wanted And Desired gave Zenovich the benefit of the doubt from me, however, and what she presents in Odd Man Out more than justifies another Polanski doc. 

Some facts and details from the first film are expectedly revisited, usually with some sort of update where relevant. Most notable is the bizarre retraction of statements made in Wanted And Desired from David Wells, one of the rape case's former prosecutors and a central figure of that film. Samantha Geimer, the then-13-year-old rape victim, is also interviewed extensively (as she was in Wanted And Desired), reiterating that she has forgiven Polanski and wishing everyone would just move on with their lives. Not to sound insensitive to what she's gone through, but I was a little puzzled at the contradiction in her expressed exasperation at the continuing media attention, yet still being willing to talk about Polanski and the case (along with her mother and husband) in a prominent documentary.

The centrepiece of Odd Man Out is Polanski's 2009 arrest, which was followed by over two months spent in a Swiss jail and seven more months under house arrest at his Swiss chalet, all while the threat of extradition to the U.S. loomed over him. The motives for the timing of the arrest are murky and curious, especially considering Switzerland's long-held tradition of neutrality and that the 79-year-old filmmaker had either lived or vacationed in the country for decades. Many think that the high profile of Wanted And Desired was the prime reason - directly or indirectly - for his detainment, a proposition that weighs heavy on Zenovich. She also looks at other possible intriguing factors, including that Switzerland might have wanted to cooperate with the U.S. government in exchange for leniency surrounding a matter of tax evasion charges between the two countries involving Swiss bank UBS, or that the resurrected case might have been used for attention by a Los Angeles District Attorney with higher political ambitions. The media firestorm that erupted after the arrest is also thoughtfully examined (click here for an amusing picture of the media circus outside Polanski's chalet during his house arrest). 

Once again, Zenovich gracefully navigates the delicate waters of the Polanski-as-victim portrayal that the facts in her films conflictingly make unavoidable. The director actually had an interview scheduled with him for a short film follow-up to Wanted And Desired, but he was arrested just before that interview was to take place. As interesting as that exchange would have been, the latest developments in Roman Polanski's long, strange life almost certainly make for the more engaging film experience that Odd Man Out delivers. 

Rating: B

An "I kid you not" side note: In the lineup for the movie, just before I had turned my iPod on (and thank God I didn't miss this), a woman who clearly wasn't familiar with Polanski's history asked her friend if he would be attending the screening. 

3 comments:

  1. I must look for this one when it comes out. I watched the first one based on your positive review and find Polanski a fascinating, if repugnant, person.

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  2. Uggh, I was reading another review of the movie this morning and it suddenly came to me that I can't believe I forgot to mention how funny that last side note was. Wow!

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    1. Lol, glad you liked it, Gail. I'm with you on Polanski...a fascinating figure, but I feel conflicted watching any movie he makes.

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