PolanskiUnauthThe life of Roman Polanski is great material for a horror film without question, but this cheesy 2009 biopic is far from a great movie.

With all the biographies that have been written about Roman Polanski over the years—Thomas Kiernan’s ROMAN POLANSKI STORY, Barbara Leaming’s POLANSKI, Polanski’s own ROMAN, etc.—it was inevitable that a dramatic film chronicle of Polanski would turn up (if not several). POLANSKI UNAUTHORIZED is the first such film, and probably not the last.

This no budgeter actually got a U.S. theatrical release in early 2009 under the title POLANSKI (the “UNAUTHORIZED” was added for the DVD release). Unfortunately for writer-producer-director-star Damian Chapa, that release occurred several months prior to Roman Polanski’s much publicized September ‘09 arrest, which might have ignited some interest in the film—or maybe not.

Chapa is a prolific supporting actor and director of low budget features, with titles like KILL YOU TWICE, SHADE OF PALE, and DEATH OF EVIL to his credit (no, I haven’t heard of any of those films either!). A forthcoming project is BRANDO UNAUTHORIZED, which is supposed to do for Marlon Brando what POLANSKI UNAUTHORIZED did for Mr. Polanski.

Anyway: Chapa’s Roman Polanski is a Polish filmmaker living in America who, as this film opens, is up to no good: he’s seducing a 13-year-old girl in his pal Jack Nicholson’s pool house as part of an ersatz photo shoot. As the vile seduction proceeds we flash back on Polanski’s late-1960s meeting with his wife Sharon Tate and his childhood as a Jew in Nazi occupied Poland, when his parents were apparently taken away from him in a teary and melodramatic scene. His mother (according to this film) was later interrogated by Nazi officers at Auschwitz and given a “good shower” in a gas chamber—which we get to see every bit of.

Further flashbacks show Polanski making an alliance with Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, whose Satanic powers apparently cursed Polanski’s life forevermore, and freaking out over the news that his wife is pregnant, which threatens his hedonistic lifestyle (“I’m a leopard,” he complains, “I can’t change my spots!”). We also see his eventual arrest for the rape of the 13-year-old girl, and the arresting officers’ bemusement that Polanski doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions.

As a climax we see Sharon Tate and several acquaintances brutally slaughtered by members of Charles Manson’s “family” while Polanski is out—having sex with another woman! It all concludes with Polanski’s statutory rape trial, after which he abruptly hops on a plane to Europe. There he remains for the rest of his life.

I’ll give writer-director Damian Chapa credit for adequately compressing Roman Polanski’s life (the interesting parts of it, anyway) into a 90-minute timeframe. He does this by intercutting the three major events of Polanski’s existence: his childhood, Sharon Tate’s murder and the molestation. This approach is far too ambitious, alas, for Chapa’s limited budget and talents.

The film suffers from tacky digital photography and an overly shrill, melodramatic tone that sacrifices historical accuracy for TV movie-esque sensationalism. Among other questionable elements, Chapa has Polanski tormented by Nazi-tinged flashbacks during his rape of the girl and alleges that he witnessed his mother getting manhandled at Auschwitz, neither of which has any basis in reality. The same can be said for the ludicrous impersonations, by various no-name actors, of Sharon Tate, Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and other famous folk.

The best performance, unexpectedly enough, is by Damian Chapa himself in the title role. He looks somewhat like Roman Polanski and adequately captures Polanski’s oily European charm (although Chapa’s Roman Polanski is prone to bouts of public hysteria, which the real Polanski never was). In fact, based on this film I’d say Chapa is best sticking to acting.

Vital Statistics

Amadeus Pictures

Director/Producer: Damian Chapa
Screenplay: Damian Chapa, Carlton Holder
Cinematography: Pierre Chemaly
Editing: Keita Ideno
Cast: Damian Chapa, Thomas Druilhet, Leah Grimsson, Silvia Suvadova, Christian Serritello, Elena Talan, Kathleen Gregory, Robert McAtee, Charles Power, Elena Talan