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Leniency for Polanski

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The news of director Roman Polanski's arrest stirred me more than I might have expected, since I'd just screened Marina Zenovich's revealing documentary about this man's tortured life, entitled Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008).

This documentary is must-viewing, particularly given breaking events.

Confronting these developments, we must affirm the law's the law, right? And what Polanski reputedly did with a 13-year-old girl all those years ago was unquestionably the act of a sick individual.

But the story of what Polanski suffered even before the unspeakable trauma of having his pregnant wife Sharon Tate butchered in the spooky twilight of the turbulent sixties makes me believe that overall, he's as much victim as predator himself. 

Can you imagine living in the Krakow ghetto during the Nazi Occupation, and at the tender age of ten watching both your parents shuttled off to concentration camps, only to have your mother die in one?

These horrors by no means excuse his crime, but they are mitigating factors, are they not?

This new arrest also smacks of a sneak attack on the now 76-year-old director, who's been remarried to actress Emmanuelle Seigner for two decades. (He's probably reformed by now , don't you think?)

And unless there's something we don't yet know -- for instance, that he actually wanted to be arrested to gain some sort of late-life expiation of his past sins -- then it's clear he thought he was safe going to Switzerland to accept that award.

Watching Wanted and Desired, I did not get the impression that the now-adult lady Polanski victimized, who after all bears the most right to carry a grudge, would herself want to see the aging director slapped behind bars at this stage. (Perhaps others who saw the film had a different impression.)

So, with all due contempt for child molesters in general, I hope the case will be handled expeditiously, and if and when sentenced, that Polanski ultimately receives a measure of leniency. In other words- don't throw away the key.

I can't help musing that here in America, we drove away Chaplin for all those years, and though Polanski's crime was much harsher and more defined, I, for one, would welcome having him back among us once he's paid his debt to society. Maybe he could even help us make better movies again.

Of course, the diminutive Pole has had his share of stinkers (example: 1988's Frantic was most ordinary), but in my view, the following five features assure his screen immortality.

Knife In The Water (1962)- Weird dynamics arise when a married couple impulsively invite a young male hitch-hiker on a boating excursion. The men each subtly vie for macho supremacy as a way both to impress and lay claim to the woman. A layered tale about mankind's baser instincts on display, the film catapulted the young director to fame in his own country.

Repulsion (1965)- When Helene and her boyfriend leave her disturbed sister Carole (Catherine Deneuve) alone in their London flat one weekend, Carole's visceral contempt for men causes her to disintegrate emotionally. Pretty as she is, it's difficult for the opposite sex to leave her alone, including ardent admirer Colin (John Fraser). He has definitely picked the wrong girl. The director's first English-language film makes for a potent shocker, with Deneuve mesmerizing as the isolated, increasingly demented Carole.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)- New York's famous Dakota apartment building houses a modern-day witches' coven, with designs on the unborn child of a young housewife (Mia Farrow). Is Rosemary really carrying the Devil's offspring, and if so, how will she get anyone to believe her... before it's too late? This subtly demonic tale builds to a shocking climax. The willowy Farrow embodies vulnerability as Rosemary, while John Cassavetes, in a rare mainstream role, delivers just the right amount of shaded menace as her too soothing spouse. Ruth Gordon also scores as a kooky older neighbor, and look for a young Charles Grodin playing a doctor in a pivotal scene.

Chinatown (1974)- Hired by glamorous, mysterious Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to tail her errant husband, private dick Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) thinks he's on a routine case of spousal infidelity. It turns out Evelyn is the daughter of shadowy industrial baron Noah Cross (John Huston), and the seamy revleations mount from there, plunging Jake into a hornet's nest of incest and corruption in 1930's Los Angeles. Unquestionably one of the best films about the "City Of Angels", it's also one of the most superbly crafted detective stories ever committed to celluloid. The two leads really click, and legendary director Huston delivers his finest acting turn as the wily, ruthless Cross. Watch for Polanski himself as thug with a grudge against nosy people.

The Pianist (2002)- When the Nazis occupy Warsaw, a gifted pianist (Adrien Brody) feels his privileged world begin to crumble. Escaping the fate of his family,who are deported to a concentration camp, the man hides out in the apartment of a sympathetic friend, who then disappears. Desperate, he moves from one empty flat to another, determined to elude capture aa the city collapses around him. Polanski transforms this true story based on one man's memoirs into his most personal work. The acting in this shattering film is superb, with Thomas Kretschmann playing a Nazi officer partial to classical music, and Brody heart-rending in the title role, for he which he netted a richly deserved Oscar.

For over 2,000 more outstanding titles on DVD, visit www.bestmoviesbyfarr.com.

And check out John's weekly film recommendations on video at www.reel13.org.