Cannes 2012: Is Roman Polanski seeking some image rehab?

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Roman Polanski isn’t one for public appearances these days. And film festivals probably aren’t the director’s favorite place in any event; it was only three years ago that he was arrested while trying to attend one.

But this year’s Cannes Film Festival is subtly turning into Roman-ville.

The Paris-born, Poland-raised director hovers over the festival with a new documentary, “Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir,” in which he is seen or heard on camera for nearly all of its 94 minutes, sharing thoughts about his life (including his legal travails) with longtime friend Andrew Braunsberg. The film screened to a warm reception from the Cannes faithful on Thursday.

On Monday, Polanski will hover over the festival more literally — the Paris-dwelling director is scheduled to come to Cannes for a special screening of “Tess,” his 1979 romance that was the first film he made after fleeing the U.S. on pending statutory rape charges. He may even make some remarks introducing the film, according to one person who was briefed on the director’s plans.


“Memoir,” a documentary filmmaker who specializes in Hollywood named Laurent Bouzereau, is a straightforward conversation between Hollywood producer Braunsberg and Polanski from when Polanski was under house arrest in his Gstaad chalet. At the time, there was a lot of uncertainty about the director’s future — a Swiss court had yet to reject a U.S. attorney’s extradition request — but Polanski appears calm, recalling events from his earliest days in Nazi-occupied Poland to the present. He describes details from his childhood, with friends and family members ripped away from him by the SS, that might soften even the hardest Polanski hater.

The filmmaker makes no excuses for his sex crime, but he clearly feels he paid the price. He also wants to correct misperceptions, such as his fleeing being an act of bail-jumping. “There was no bail,” he reminds in the film. And he apologizes to his victim, Samantha Geimer — while still taking a shot at the way the media has treated her.

The movie is coming out in several European countries, including Italy, where it’s being released this weekend. There is not yet a deal in place in the U.S. — though as Braunsberg told 24 Frames after the screening, that’s unquestionably the most important venue for the director.

Polanski apparently deliberated for two months before deciding he wanted to sit for the documentary. What motivated him to step out of the shadows? Despite a lifelong skepticism of the press, he might at 78 finally be interested in defining himself instead of allowing strangers to do it for him, Braunsberg said.

“There is only story. And that’s the true story you see in this film,” Braunsberg told 24 Frames after the screening. (Polanski also recently decided to make a movie about the Dreyfus affair, a decision that could easily be read as a statement of his belief that he too has been railroaded by a prejudicial justice system.)

Before the screening, Braunsberg told the audience he felt the movie was a step toward doing what had never been done, the first phase of a potentially larger process of explanation. “This is the beginning of the beginning of who Roman is,” he said. “What you are about to see is an image of Roman from Roman’s own mouth.”


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— Steven Zeitchik