Roman Raymond Polanski (born August 18, 1933) is an Academy Award-winning and four-time nominated Polish film director, writer, actor, producer and Holocaust survivor. After beginning his career in Poland, Polanski became a celebrated arthouse filmmaker and Hollywood director of such films as Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974). Polanski is considered one of the world’s great film directors.
He is also known for his tumultuous personal life. He lived in Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII. In 1969, his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson Family. In 1978, after pleading guilty in a plea bargain with the Los Angeles district attorney, to "unlawful sexual intercourse" with a 13-year-old girl, Polanski fled to France before sentencing. He now lives there and has French citizenship (France has limited extradition with the United States). He is considered by U.S. authorities to be a fugitive from justice.
He has continued to direct films from Europe, including Frantic (1988), Death and the Maiden (1994), The Ninth Gate, the Academy Award-winning and Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or-winning The Pianist (2002), and Oliver Twist (2005).
The Polański family moved back to Poland in 1937. Thereafter, in 1939, Poland was invaded and occupied by Germany and the Soviet Union, in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet Pact. On November 13, 1939, the Polish city of Kraków became the seat of office of Hans Frank. The General Government comprised those parts of the Polish state which had not been annexed to Germany. The declared goal of the German occupiers was to make the General Government judenfrei, and expel the Poles so Germans could settle there.
The Polański family was a target of Nazi persecution and forced into the Kraków Ghetto, along with thousands of other Polish Jews. Roman Polański's mother was subsequently gassed in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. His father barely survived the Austrian concentration camp Mauthausen-Gusen. Polański himself escaped the Kraków Ghetto, surviving the war with the help of a Polish Roman Catholic farmer, on whose farm he had to sleep in a cow stall. After the war he learned from his sister that his mother had been killed by the Nazis.
Polanski's first feature-length film, Knife in the Water, was also the first significant Polish film after the war that did not have a war theme. Made from a script by Jerzy Skolimowski, Jakub Goldberg and Polański himself, Knife in the Water is a dark and unsettling psychological thriller which subtly evinces the cruel, amoral power dynamics of material and sexual jealousy suffused with a profound pessimism about human relationships. The film is an intense, claustrophobic three-handed potboiler — with the austere, desolate quality of a chamber drama — about a wealthy, unhappily married couple who decide to take a mysterious hitchhiker with them on a weekend boating excursion.
Although not well-received by the Polish cultural authorities on account of its lack of a socially redeeming message, Knife in the Water was nevertheless a major commercial success in the west and gave Polanski an international reputation. The film also earned its director his first Academy Award nomination (Best Foreign Language Film, 1963).
Her sister departs for a holiday in Italy with a boyfriend, and Carol is left alone in their shared apartment flat. Carol's disordered mind finally breaks from reality as actual threats of domestic and sexual invasion blend into grotesque paranoid hallucinations, causing her to respond with desperate, deadly acts of violence.
The film's setup concerns two gangsters, Dickie and Albie (Lionel Stander and MacGowran), who are on the run after a heist gone bad. The film opens with Dickie pushing their broken-down car along the tidal causeway of Lindisfarne island. It is implied that the shootout which occurred during the heist had left Albie bleeding and paralyzed, and Dickie, who is also wounded but still mobile, now seeks to contact their underworld boss, Katelbach. (Like Beckett's Godot, Katelbach is frequently alluded to throughout the course of the film, but never actually appears).
As he searches the island, Dickie discovers that the famous medieval castle is inhabited by an effete, neurotic middle-aged man (Donald Pleasence) and his nymphomaniacal young French wife (Françoise Dorléac, Catherine Deneuve's older sister). A series of grotesque mishaps, both farcical and tragic, ensues when Dickie decides to take the couple hostage in their castle as he waits (in vain) for further instructions from the mysterious Katelbach.
The plot concerns a buffoonish professor named Abronsius (Jack MacGowran, the only actor to appear in two consecutive Polanski films until Emmanuelle Seigner, two decades later) and his clumsy assistant, Alfred (played by Polanski himself), who are traveling through Transylvania in search of vampires.
The two of them arrive in a small village near a vampire-infested castle, which they plan to examine. While taking lodgings at the village tavern, Alfred falls in love with Sarah, the local innkeeper's daughter (played by Polanski's future wife, Sharon Tate). Shortly after, Sarah is abducted by the vampires and taken to the castle. The rest of the film concerns Abronsius and Alfred's madcap efforts to penetrate the castle walls and rescue the girl. The unexpected and grimly ironic ending is classic Polanski.
Shortly after, in 1968, Polanski went to the United States, where he established his reputation as a major commercial filmmaker with the success of his first Hollywood film, Rosemary's Baby. The film is a horror-thriller set in New York about Rosemary (Mia Farrow), an innocent young woman from Omaha, Nebraska, who is impregnated by the devil after her narcissistic actor husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), offers her womb to a coven of local witches in exchange for a successful career. Rosemary's Baby was based upon the recent popular novel of the same name by Ira Levin, which Polanski adapted as a screenplay, earning him a second Academy Award nomination.
In April 1969, Polanski's friend and collaborator, the composer Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969), died from head injuries sustained from a skiing accident. Komeda had been a popular jazz artist in Poland when the director first approached him to score Two Men and a Wardrobe in 1958. He went on to score all of Polanski's feature films of the 1960s (with the exception of Repulsion), and is probably best known in the U.S. for his final collaboration with the director: the haunting soundtrack to Rosemary's Baby.
On August 9 1969, Tate, who was eight months pregnant with the couple's first child (a boy), and four others (Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent) were brutally murdered by members of Charles Manson's "Family", who entered the Polanskis' rented home at 10050 Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills intending to "kill everyone there". Previous resident Terry Melcher had angered Charles Manson because he had declined to record some of his music. Melcher and his girlfriend at the time, actress Candice Bergen, had been living at the house but had moved out in February of 1969. In March, Polanski and Tate moved in.
When Manson ordered members of his group to go to the property and kill everyone, they obeyed. After Parent, Sebring, Frykowski, and Folger had been murdered, Tate pleaded for the life of her unborn son. Susan Atkins replied that she felt no pity for her and began stabbing her. She soaked up some of Tate's blood with a towel and wrote "PIG" on the front door with it.
Polanski was at his house in London at the time of the murders and immediately traveled to Los Angeles, where he was questioned by police. As there were no suspects in the case, police checked on the past history of Polanski and Tate to try to determine a motive. After a period of months, Manson and his "family" were arrested on unrelated charges, which revealed evidence of what came to be known as the Tate-LaBianca murders. Polanski returned to Europe shortly after the killers were arrested. He later said that he gave away all his possessions as everything reminded him of Tate and was too painful for him, and that the greatest regret of his life was that he was not in Los Angeles with Tate on the night of her murder.
A number of critics were disturbed by the relentless violence in the film as well as the unsparing bleakness of Polanski's modernist interpretation of Shakespeare's tragedy (influenced by the writings of Polish drama critic and theoretician, Jan Kott). Pauline Kael commented that the slaughter of Lady Macduff and her household appeared to have been staged in an especially lurid manner that was clearly intended to evoke the Manson killings.
What? is also significant in that it is Polanski's only film to date in which a character breaks the fourth wall. The film was a failure with audiences and critics, although in the years since its release What? has attracted a minor cult following and a modicum of critical notice.
Produced at the height of the Watergate scandal, Chinatown accurately reflects the prevailing mood of cynicism and disillusionment that marked American life by the mid-1970s. The ingeniously constructed film noir narrative becomes an existential and historical parable which significantly transcends the traditional conventions of the detective genre. As such, Chinatown offers a profound and disturbing (albeit fictional) critique of American civic institutions and their hidden machinations — ultimately attributing the rapid economic development and urban expansion of Los Angeles in the 1930s to a nefarious conspiracy involving corruption, fraud, murder and incestuous rape.
Polanski has a memorable cameo appearance midway through the film as a knife-wielding hoodlum who slits open the nostril of the muckraking detective-protagonist, Gittes, after the latter makes an insulting remark about the thug's diminutive stature.
The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and won for Best Original Screenplay. Chinatown proved to be Polanski's greatest commercial and critical success, and many believe it to be his single greatest work. Today, the film's reputation as a classic of New Hollywood cinema — and an exemplary work of the revisionist neo-noir genre — is unassailable.
Many have noted the similarities with Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, and together with these two earlier works, The Tenant can be seen as the third installment in a loose trilogy of films exploring the theme of urban alienation and social anomie vis-à-vis the psychic and emotional breakdown of an isolated individual personality. For The Tenant, Ingmar Bergman's regular cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, served as cameraman, and Isabelle Adjani and Shelley Winters both appeared in supporting roles.
According to Geimer, Polanski asked Geimer's mother if he could photograph the girl for the French edition of Vogue, which Polanski had been invited to guest-edit. Her mother allowed a private photo shoot. According to Geimer in a 2003 interview, "Everything was going fine; then he asked me to change, well, in front of him." She added, "It didn't feel right, and I didn't want to go back to the second shoot."
Geimer later agreed to a second session, which took place on March 10, 1977 at the Mulholland area home of actor Jack Nicholson in Los Angeles. "We did photos with me drinking champagne," Geimer says. "Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realized he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn't quite know how to get myself out of there." Geimer alleged that Polanski sexually assaulted her after giving her a combination of champagne and quaaludes. In the 2003 interview, Geimer says she resisted. "I said no several times, and then, well, gave up on that," she says.
Polanski was initially charged with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance (methaqualone) to a minor, but these charges were dismissed under the terms of his plea bargain, and he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
In 2008, a documentary film of the aftermath of the incident, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Following review of the film, Polanski and his attorney, Douglas Dalton contacted the Los Angeles district attorney's office about prosecutor David Wells' role in coaching the judge, Laurence J. Rittenband. Using Wells' own claims from the film, Polanski and Dalton are investigating whether the prosecutor acted illegally and engaged in malfeasance in interfering with the operation of the trial.
On February 1, 1978, Polanski fled to London, where he maintained residency. A day later he traveled on to France, where he held citizenship, in order to avoid extradition to the U.S. by Britain. Consistent with its extradition treaty with the United States, France refuses to extradite its own citizens. As a consequence, an extradition request later filed by U.S. officials was denied. The United States government could have requested that Polanski be prosecuted on the California charges by the French authorities, but this option has not been pursued.
Polanski has never returned to Britain, and later sold his home in absentia. Since the United States could still request the arrest and extradition of Polanski from other countries should he visit them, Polanski has avoided visits to countries that are likely to extradite him (such as Britain) and mostly travels between France and Poland.
In a 2003 interview, Samantha Geimer said, "Straight up, what he did to me was wrong. But I wish he would return to America so the whole ordeal can be put to rest for both of us." Furthermore, "I'm sure if he could go back, he wouldn't do it again. He made a terrible mistake but he's paid for it".
In 2008, Geimer stated in an interview that she wishes Polanski would be forgiven, “I think he's sorry, I think he knows it was wrong. I don't think he's a danger to society. I don't think he needs to be locked up forever and no one has ever come out ever - besides me - and accused him of anything. It was 30 years ago now. It's an unpleasant memory ... (but) I can live with it.
The trial started on July 18, 2005, and Polanski made English legal history as the first claimant to give evidence by video link. During the trial, which included the testimony of Mia Farrow and others, it was claimed that the alleged scene at the famous New York restaurant Elaine's could not have taken place on the date given, because Polanski only dined at this restaurant three weeks later. Also, the Norwegian model disputed accounts that he had claimed to be able to make her "the next Sharon Tate". In the course of the trial, Polanski did admit to having been unfaithful to Tate during their marriage.
Polanski was awarded £50,000 damages by the High Court in London. Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, responded, "I find it amazing that a man who lives in France can sue a magazine that is published in America in a British courtroom". According to the British tabloid The Daily Mirror, Samantha Geimer commented, "Surely a man like this hasn't got a reputation to tarnish?
Tess was Polanski's first film since his 1977 arrest in Los Angeles, and because of the American-British extradition treaty, Tess was shot in the north of France instead of Hardy's Dorset and Wiltshire. The film became the most expensive ever made in France up to that time, causing producer Claude Berri considerable anxiety when there was difficulty finding a North American distributor for the picture, which was nearly three hours long.
The film was eventually released in North America by Columbia Pictures, which had also distributed Polanski's earlier Macbeth. Ultimately, Tess proved a financial success and was well-received by both critics and the public. For Tess, Polanski won French César Awards for Best Picture and Best Director and received his fourth Academy Award nomination (and his second nomination for Best Director). The film received three Oscars: best cinematography, best art direction and best costume design. In addition, "Tess" was nominated for best picture (Polanski's second film to get nominated) and best original score.Pirates (1986), a lavish period piece starring Walter Matthau, which the director intended as an homage to the beloved Errol Flynn swashbucklers of his childhood — particularly Captain Blood. Upon its release, the film was a major commercial and critical disaster and ultimately stood as the biggest flop of Polanski's career.
The debacle of Pirates was followed by Frantic (1987), starring Harrison Ford and the actress/model Emmanuelle Seigner, whom the director married in 1989. She would go on to star in two more of his films, Bitter Moon (1992) and The Ninth Gate (1999). Polanski and Seigner have two children, Morgane and Elvis, the latter named after Polanski's favorite singer, Elvis Presley.
On March 11, 1998 Polanski was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
In May 2002, Polanski won the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) award at the Cannes Film Festival for The Pianist, for which he also took Césars for Best Film and Best Director, and later won the 2002 Academy Award for Directing. He did not attend the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood because he would have been arrested once he set foot in the United States. After the announcement of the "Best Director Award", Polanski received a standing ovation from most of those present in the theater . In 2004, he received the Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
During the summer and autumn of 2004, Polanski shot a new film adaptation of the Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, based on Ronald Harwood's screenplay. The shooting took place at the Barrandov Studios in Prague, Czech Republic. The actors included Barney Clark (Oliver Twist), Jamie Foreman (Bill Sykes), Harry Eden (the Artful Dodger), Ben Kingsley (Fagin), Leeanne Rix (Nancy), and Edward Hardwicke (Mr. Brownlow). Besides the cast, the director gathered some collaborators from his previous movies: Ronald Harwood (screenplay), as noted, Allan Starski (production designer), Pawel Edelman (director of photography), and Anna Sheppard (costume designer).
In November 2007, Damian Chapa announced penning down and directing a biopic on Roman Polanski titled Polanski.
Polanski made a cameo appearance in Rush Hour 3 as a French police official. Also he will direct an adaption of the novel The Ghost, written by Robert Harris, which is about a story writer who stumbles on a secret that puts him in danger as he writes a story on the life of a former prime minister of the U.K.
Most of Polanski's films are intelligent psychological suspense thrillers, notable for their deliberate pacing, carefully established mood and atmosphere, and faintly Gothic treatment of settings and characters. As a stylist, Polanski favors long takes, deep-focus photography, and detailed pictorial mise-en-scène; jump cuts and montage very rarely appear in his work.
A recurring theme in his work is the relationship between victim and predator, and the unstable and shifting dynamics of power relations between characters often lead to sudden outbursts of absurd and grotesque violence (e.g., Cul-de-Sac, Macbeth, Chinatown, Bitter Moon, Death and the Maiden). Many of Polanski's films (especially his early works) deal with characters struggling for mastery over a hopeless situation and feature a circular plot structure — i.e., the action is framed by a bitterly ironic recurrence of events or reversal of fortunes at the end.
|Year||Film||Oscar nominations||Oscar wins|
|1955||Zaczarowany rower (aka Magical Bicycle)|
|1957||Morderstwo (aka A Murderer)|
|Uśmiech zębiczny (aka A Toothful Smile)|
|Rozbijemy zabawę (aka Break Up the Dance)|
|1958||Dwaj ludzie z szafą (aka Two Men and a Wardrobe)|
|1959||Lampa (aka The Lamp)|
|Gdy spadają anioły (aka When Angels Fall)|
|1960||Le Gros et le maigre (aka The Fat and the Lean)|
|1961||Ssaki (aka Mammals)|
|1962||Nóż w wodzie (aka Knife in the Water)||1|
|1964||Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (aka The Beautiful Swindlers) - segment: "La rivière de diamants"|
|1967||The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of the Vampires)|
|1971||The Tragedy of Macbeth|
|1973||What? (aka Diary of Forbidden Dreams)|
|1976||Le Locataire (aka The Tenant)|
|1994||Death and the Maiden|
|1999||The Ninth Gate|
|2007||To Each His Own Cinema (segment Cinéma erotique)|