Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (2011) ***
Dir. Laurent Bouzerau
Starring: Roman Polanski, Andrew Braunsberg
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Laurent Bouzerau might be one of the best directors you've never heard of. He's directed, produced and edited over 150 documentaries - all good, a few great. He is the pioneer of extra feature documentaries that we all take for granted on our DVDs and Blu-Rays. As a laserdisc geek, I remember always being blown away by the Criterion Collection laserdiscs and their fantastic extra features. It was here where I first saw Bouzerau's credit - he was not only responsible for making the documentaries, he was even the producer of some great Criterion laserdiscs.
Where he really shone, in my opinion, were his formidably exhaustive "Making Of" documentaries for Universal Pictures - again, on laserdisc (where his Jaws and 1941 docs were feature length masterworks of the form). Years later on DVD, I was also impressed with his magnificent Hitchcock documentaries. also for Universal.
Bouzerau is a pioneer, a genuine filmmaker and the real thing. When I found out he was the director of Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, I dove into the film with complete and utter abandon. Imagine then, my disappointment, when it became obvious that Producer Andrew Braunsberg didn't just turn over the reigns to Bouzerau completely and instead, seems to have used him as a camera jockey.
The film, as it stands, is a conversation between Polanski and Braunsberg. The latter has been a friend and producer to the famous child rapist and auteur for many years and while Bouzerau shoots the proceedings with simple, effective competence, one wonders how much he really had to do with the film. I only need compare this picture to Bouzerau's previous work where his voice and passion for cinema are so clear to make the assumption that Braunsberg has used this great talent to merely point and shoot.
Bouzerau was surely, in one way or another, involved in numerous aspects of the movie that clearly DO work, but the disappointment comes in realizing just how great it could have been if he'd been given carte blanche to apply his own unique voice to the picture (as was clearly apparent on so much of his earlier work). Even though all his home entertainment documentaries were client-based, the fact that they clearly have so many individual touches to them suggests that he was working at the peak of his powers.
It doesn't always feel that way here.
And so, we have a conversation between two old friends. When Polanski talks about his days as a child during the Holocaust and his early years before attending the Lodz film school, he opens up in the sort of frank manner that might ONLY have been secured in conversation with a friend. I guarantee there will be no dry eyes in the house during these moving and harrowing sequences. As well, Polanski's recollections of Sharon Tate, the horrendous Manson Massacre and the aftermath is painful, honest and truly horrifying.
Yes, he is both a great artist and a human being who has suffered what no man should suffer.
He is, however, a child rapist. I feel the film lets him off lightly in this regard and his remorse seems to come far too late in his life to have much impact. Granted one feels anger that the Swiss government placed him unfairly under house arrest (during which time this film was made) and that this action on the part of Switzerland was clearly an affront to justice - both for Polanski and his victim. It was the sort of grandstanding that was occurring in the American courts when Polanski was first brought before them. All this is clear and understandable.
The rape is not.
None of this, however - in any way, shape or form - takes away from the genuinely heart wrenching section about Polanski's nightmarish early years. In fact, it offers up far more questions left unanswered about the vile acts he perpetrated upon that little girl and their relationship to his own suffering. Some might suggest this is a more effective way for the film to deal with that issue.
I think it's a cheat.
I expected Polanski to open up so much more than he does here and I suspect he could have if he'd really been pushed to the sort of limits that a friend - on film, no less - might actually be willing or able to go.
Where the film really goes off the rails is in the discussions with Polanski about his filmmaking. It's hardly in-depth and barely skims the surface that his work merits - especially within the context of a personal memoir. I personally had hoped the film could have also gone as in-depth about Polanski's cinema as Bouzerau has accomplished on his previous filmmaking documentaries. This could have been an epic cinematic memoir as opposed to one that feels incomplete. One needs only to look at the brilliant interviews Bouzerau presided over with Steven Spielberg to realize what a lost opportunity this all was.
In spite of these reservations, what's powerful about the film is SO powerful that it's finally an absolute must-see! And one hopes, that Bouzerau and Polanski can someday go head to head - ON film, ABOUT film - specifically, the stunning canon Polanski has amassed to date.
"Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir" is playing this final weekend at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. For tickets and showtime information, please visit the TJFF website HERE.
If you're interested in reading my previous writings on Roman Polanski, they are as follows:
"You Only Have Yourself To Blame" - The Claustrophobia Films of Roman Polanski
Part One: My Love Affair With The Poison Dwarf - Available HERE
"You Only Have Yourself To Blame" - The Claustrophobia Films of Roman Polanski Part Two: REPULSION and THE TENANT, Roman Polanski and the Art of Humiliation - Available HERE
ROSEMARY'S BABY - Devil Worship always involves sacrifice, but perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all is giving birth... Available HERE
CARNAGE - Roman Polanski Delivers The Goods! First Run Engagement is the Cherry on the Sundae of TIFF Bell Lightbox Retrospective of the Claustrophobia Films of Polanski Available HERE