There’s no escaping Roman Polanski, it seems.
Polanski’s work as an actor and director is being showcased in a celebrated and extensive photographic exhibit at the L Space Gallery in Toronto this week, his 1979 adaption of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles was just reprised at TIFF in a new digital restoration, and Marina Zenovich’s follow-up to her controversial 2008 portrait Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired had its festival premiere.
That film is called Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, and it’s further proof that the persistence of the Chinatown metaphor – that the past is not something easily left behind – is as potent as ever.
As you might recall, that 1974 Polanski film noir insisted that the sins of the past will always haunt the present, no matter how much time and distance has been crossed.
This was brought home with particularly acute force to Zenovich in September, 2009, when she learned that Polanski had been detained and arrested by Swiss police at the request of American authorities. When the news was made public, Zenovich found herself right back at the centre of the Polanski storm, her own version of waking up right back in Chinatown.
“I kind of went from being the girl who made that film that everyone saw about Roman Polanski to ‘You’re the girl who made the film that got him arrested,’ which was really kind of weird and a bit unsettling,” Zenovich said in an interview this week.
At the time of the arrest, Zenovich was at work on a short film following up Wanted and Desired, a movie which offered compelling and incendiary evidence that Polanski’s Los Angeles trial for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl had been fatally compromised by misconduct on the part of the trial judge. The movie provided stark new illumination on the director’s flight from the United States nearly 35 years ago, and in the process reignited a firestorm of controversy over whether Polanski should be retried in America in light of the new evidence.
“I was filming for nine months by the time he got arrested,” Zenovich recalled. “And his lawyers decided to file a motion to re-open the case, so I’m like, oh my God, I have to make a short film about this, just a short film that I was going to do on the side.
“I even had an interview with Polanski. I’d literally bought the ticket and was going to Paris in November to meet him, having won an Emmy for the first film in September. Then I heard of the arrest and my whole life kind of changed.”
When Zenovich arrived in Zurich to prepare for what was suddenly an entirely different film, she was amazed to see her own image everywhere: “There were quotes from me and pictures of me all over the place,” she said. “I was the person who’d made the movie that had stirred all this up. It was incredible.”
Zenovich’s new movie is thus not only about what happened to Polanski after he arrived in Switzerland, officially to receive a lifetime-achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival. It’s also about what happens when you tell a story that you become part of, when your subject and yourself become so inextricably tied up it’s as though fate has woven you together. The film chronicles the events leading up to and following the arrest – Polanski, now 79, was imprisoned for two months and kept under house arrest for another six before Swiss authorities declared him a free man – and hopefully, for both directors, marks the end of their synchronicity.
“I don’t think the story is over,” Zenovich said. “But I think I’m done with the story.”
Roman Polanski – Actor and Director runs at the L Space Gallery in Toronto until Oct. 5.