Laurent Bouzereau’s Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir features the eponymous director in conversation with his longtime friend and producer, Andrew Braunsberg – the pair have known one another since 1964. With that kind of bare-bones conceptualizing it might not come as a surprise to learn that Bouzereau’s bread and butter as a director has been creating extras for DVD’s. Watching filmmakers discuss their work for five minutes, behind-the-scenes, can be entertaining – even illuminating. But an hour and a half of the stuff could try the patience. Fortunately for Bouzereau – and his viewers – Polanski is funny, insightful and eloquent when discussing a life few of us could fathom.
The discussion was filmed during Polanski’s house arrest in Gstaad, Switzerland, in 2009. The director was threatened with extradition to the U.S. to face his infamous sexual misconduct charges dating to 1977. We learn the clandestine details of Polanski’s arrest before he recounts his childhood, growing up in a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Krakow, Poland. Polanski’s mother was killed by the Nazis and the director was separated from his father who was sent to a work camp. His sister survived Auschwitz. His mother was pregnant when she was arrested during a raid and her death eerily prefigures the murder of Polasnki’s wife Sharon Tate and their unborn child by the Manson Family in 1969.
Polanski’s remembrances of the ghetto and of his time hiding in the Polish countryside are accompanied by scenes from his films – the director occasionally speaks to the scenes directly, pointing out where their subtexts and his own biography overlap. The film continues, juxtaposing events in Polanski’s life with the succession of hits and misses he created while navigating his early success in Europe, making the masterpieces Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby, and building a career outside of Hollywood while exiled in Europe.
Polanski’s lived an outrageously tragic life filled with violence and murder. He’s also reviled by many for his own crime. The film’s been criticized for Braunsberg’s softball interview and the contention that Memoir offers nothing that hasn’t already been covered in Polanski’s autobiography or in the determinedly detailed documentary Roman Polanski:Wanted and Desired.
Braunsberg’s over-familiarity does begin to wear, but perhaps that’s why Polanski – who is practiced at playing the bristly interviewee – is so relaxed here. Memoir isn’t a definitive study of the man or his work, but what it brings us is Polanski himself, on his own terms, telling his own story in his own words. Sure the film amounts to little more than a chat between two old friends, but what Memoir really delivers its viewers is a seat at the table for that conversation. I for one wouldn’t have missed it.
Here’s the trailer
The film debuted at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and it’s just been released to these digital streaming portals: iTunes, Amazon, XBox, Sony, Google / YouTube.