More than another fawning ode to a legendary director (though it is certainly that), Laurent Bouzereau’s supremely subservient docu “Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir” sets out to rehabilitate its seventysomething subject’s reputation with the help of his longtime colleague and friend Andrew Braunsberg as both producer and interviewer. Persistent debate over whether Polanski has eluded justice for his admitted unlawful relationship with a 13-year-old girl in the ’70s — give or take the more nuanced “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” from 2008 — has clearly inspired Braunsberg to facilitate this de facto autobiography, whose prospects appear limited to smallscreen play.
Stylistically speaking, “Memoir,” while annotated with clips from Polanski’s oeuvre, is a filmed conversation between Braunsberg and the Oscar-winning director, who was living under house arrest in Switzerland when the bulk of the docu was shot in 2009. Rhetorically speaking, beginning with Polanski’s harrowing account of his early childhood in the Krakow ghetto where he narrowly escaped Nazi persecution, the pic strongly implies that the tragic circumstances of an individual’s past, along with the artistic achievements to which that past can sometimes give rise, must be taken firmly into account when judging his subsequent actions.
This argument would be compellingly provocative if it were carried out with even the slightest amount of reflection. Alas, Bouzereau’s blow-by-blow account of Polanski’s life and work, sped along by Braunsberg’s annoying habit of completing his friend’s sentences, allows little time for the viewer to consider complicated ethical questions — a result that often seems to have been strategically orchestrated by the filmmakers.
Fighting back tears at several points, the youthful-looking Polanski — seated at a table in his luxurious Gstaad home — makes a number of variably startling comments in the film. These include the description of his 1965 thriller “Repulsion” as a “work of prostitution”; the insinuating declaration that he was “not myself for years” after the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate; and the characterization of Samantha Geimer, for whose abuse he was arrested in 1977, as a “double victim” (i.e., of his actions and those of the media).
Despite the last of these comments, Bouzereau’s film appears bent on establishing its subject himself as the ultimate victim, as when Braunsberg observes that the Chino prison where Polanski spent six weeks must have been a “ghastly place.”
A brief shot from Polanski’s “Tess” — of Nastassja Kinski’s young title character sensually devouring a strawberry — is the most striking of the film clips in “Memoir,” although scenes from “The Pianist” are used emphatically to establish the close connection between the celebrated director’s life and work. Alexandre Desplat’s string-based score is dutifully melodramatic, smoothing over passages that may have appeared troubling to some viewers. Tech credits are clean as a whistle.