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Roman Polanski

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Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski
Polanski at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival
Born Rajmund Roman Thierry Polański
(1933-08-18) 18 August 1933
Paris, France
Residence France
Citizenship Polish (by birth) and French (by naturalization)
Alma mater National Film School in Łódź
Occupation Actor, director, producer, screenwriter
Years active 1954–present
Children 2 (daughter and son)

Roman Polanski (born Rajmund Roman Thierry Polański; 18 August 1933) is a Polish and, since 1976, naturalized-French[1] film director, producer, writer, and actor. Having made films in Poland, the United Kingdom, France and the United States, he is considered one of the few "truly international filmmakers."[2] Polanski's films have inspired diverse directors, including the Coen brothers,[3] Wes Anderson,[4] David Fincher,[5] Atom Egoyan,[6] Darren Aronofsky,[7] Park Chan-wook,[8] Abel Ferrara,[9] and Wes Craven.[10]

Born in Paris to Polish parents, he moved with his family back to Poland (Second Polish Republic) in 1937, shortly before the outbreak of World War II.[11] He survived the Holocaust and was educated in Poland (People's Republic of Poland) and became a director of both art house and commercial films.[12] Polanski's first feature-length film, Knife in the Water (1962), made in Poland, was nominated for a United States Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film but was beaten by Federico Fellini's .[13] He has since received five more Oscar nominations, along with two Baftas, four Césars, a Golden Globe Award and the Palme d'Or of the Cannes Film Festival in France. In the United Kingdom he directed three films, beginning with Repulsion (1965). In 1968 he moved to the United States, and cemented his status by directing the horror film Rosemary's Baby (1968) for which Ruth Gordon won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress.

In 1969, Polanski's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Manson Family while staying at Polanski's Benedict Canyon home above Los Angeles.[14] Following Tate's death, Polanski returned to Europe and spent much of his time in Paris and Gstaad, but did not direct another film until Macbeth (1971) in England. The following year he went to Italy to make What? (1973) and subsequently spent the next five years living near Rome. However, he travelled to Hollywood to direct Chinatown (1974). The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, and was a critical and box-office success.[15] Polanski's next film, The Tenant (1976), was shot in France, and completed the "Apartment Trilogy", following Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby.[16]

In 1977, after a photo shoot in Los Angeles, Polanski was arrested for the rape of a 13-year-old girl and pleaded guilty to the charge of unlawful sex with a minor.[17] To avoid sentencing, Polanski fled to his home in London, eventually settling in France. More than 32 years later, in September 2009, he was temporarily arrested by Swiss police at the request of United States authorities, who unsuccessfully asked for his extradition.[18][19][20] During an interview for a later film documentary, he offered his apology to the woman,[21] and later said that he had regretted that episode for the last 33 years.[22]

Polanski continued to make films such as The Pianist (2002), a WWII true story drama about Jewish-Polish musician Władysław Szpilman. The film won three Academy Awards including Best Director, along with numerous international awards. He also directed other films, including Oliver Twist (2005), a story which parallels his own life as a "young boy attempting to triumph over adversity".[2] In 2009 at age 76 he was due to be awarded a lifetime-achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival but was arrested and held in a detention center for 67 days upon arrival in Zurich. After posting $4.5 million bail, he was allowed to live at his chalet in Zurich under house arrest, wearing an ankle monitor, for nine months after which he was freed.[23] In 2011, he was able to travel to Zurich from his home in France to receive the award.[24] His most recent films are The Ghost Writer (2010), a thriller focusing on a ghost writer working with a former British Prime Minister, for which he was awarded Best Director at the 23rd European Film Awards that year[25] as well as Best Director at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival, and Carnage (2011), a comedy-drama starring Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet.

Early life

Polanski was born as Rajmund Roman Thierry Polański in Paris, France on 18 August 1933,[26] the son of Bula (née Katz-Przedborska)[27] and Ryszard Polański,[28] a painter and manufacturer of sculptures, who had changed his family name from Liebling.[29] His mother had a daughter, Annette, by her previous husband. Annette managed to survive Auschwitz, where her mother died, and left Poland forever for France.[30] Polański's Polish-born father was Jewish; Polański's Russian-born mother had been raised Roman Catholic, and was of half Jewish ancestry.[31][32][33][34] Polański's parents were both agnostics.[35] Polański, influenced by his education in the People's Republic of Poland, said "I'm an atheist" in an interview about his film, Rosemary's Baby.[36]

World War II

The Polański family moved back to the Polish city of Kraków in 1936,[28] and were living there when World War II began with the invasion of Poland. Kraków was soon occupied by the German forces, and Nazi racial purity laws made the Polańskis targets of persecution, forcing them into the Kraków Ghetto, along with thousands of the city's Jews.[37] Around the age of five, he attended primary school for only a few weeks, until "all the Jewish children were abruptly expelled," writes biographer Christopher Sandford. That initiative was soon followed by requiring all Jewish children over the age of twelve to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David imprinted for visual identification. After he was expelled, he would not be allowed to enter another classroom for the next six years.[28]:18[38] Polanski then witnessed both the ghettoization of Kraków's Jews into a compact area of the city, and the subsequent deportation of all the ghetto's Jews to concentration camps, including watching as his father was taken away. He remembers from age six, one of his first experiences of the terrors to follow:

I had just been visiting my grandmother ... when I received a foretaste of things to come. At first I didn't know what was happening. I simply saw people scattering in all directions. Then I realized why the street had emptied so quickly. Some women were being herded along it by German soldiers. Instead of running away like the rest, I felt compelled to watch. One older woman at the rear of the column couldn't keep up. A German officer kept prodding her back into line, but she fell down on all fours, ... Suddenly a pistol appeared in the officer's hand. There was a loud bang, and blood came welling out of her back. I ran straight into the nearest building, squeezed into a smelly recess beneath some wooden stairs, and didn't come out for hours. I developed a strange habit: clenching my fists so hard that my palms became permanently calloused. I also woke up one morning to find that I had wet my bed.[33]

His father was transferred, along with thousands of other Jews, to Mauthausen, a group of 49 German concentration camps in Austria. His mother was taken to Auschwitz and was killed soon after arriving. The forced exodus took place immediately after the German liquidation of the Kraków ghetto, a true-life backdrop to Polanski's film, The Pianist (2002). Polanski, who was then hiding from the Germans, remembered seeing his father being marched off with a long line of people. Polanski tried getting closer to his father to ask him what was happening, and managed to get within a few yards. His father saw him, but afraid his son might be spotted by the German soldiers, whispered (in Polish,) "Get lost!"[28]:24 Polański escaped the Kraków Ghetto in 1943 and survived by assuming the name Romek Wilk, with the help of some Polish Roman Catholic families including Mrs Sermak who promised his father to shelter him.[28]:21 He attended church, learned to recite Catholic prayers by heart, and behaved outwardly as a Roman Catholic, although he was never baptized. His efforts to blend into a Catholic household failed miserably at least once, when the parish priest visiting the family posed questions to him one-on-one about the catechism: "You aren't one of us", he said.[39]

As he roamed the countryside trying to survive in a Poland now occupied by German troops, he witnessed many horrors, such as being "forced to take part in a cruel and sadistic game in which German soldiers took shots at him for target practice."[2] Author Ian Freer concludes that his constant childhood fears and dread of violence have contributed to the "tangible atmospheres he conjures up on film."[2]

By the time the war ended in 1945, a fifth of the Polish population had been killed,[40] with the vast majority of the victims being civilians. Of those deaths, 3 million were of Polish Jews, 90% of the country's Jewish population.[41] According to Sandford, Polanski would use the memory of his mother, her dress and makeup style, as a physical model for Faye Dunaway's character in his film Chinatown (1974).[28]:13

After the war

After the war he was reunited with his father, and moved back to Kraków. His father remarried 21 December 1946 to Wanda Zajączkowska (a woman Polanski had never liked) and died of cancer in 1984. Time repaired the family contacts; Polanski visited them in Kraków, and relatives visited him in Hollywood and Paris. Polanski recalls the villages and families he lived with as relatively primitive by European standards:

They were really simple Catholic peasants. This Polish village was like the English village in Tess. Very primitive. No electricity. The kids with whom I lived didn't know about electricity ... they wouldn't believe me when I told them it was enough to turn on a switch![42]

He stated that "you must live in a Communist country to really understand how bad it can be. Then you will appreciate capitalism."[42] He also remembered events at the war's end and his reintroduction to mainstream society when he was 12, forming friendships with other children, such as Roma Ligocka, Ryszard Horowitz and his family.[43]

Introduction to movies

Polanski's fascination with cinema began very early, when he was around age four or five. He recalls this period in an interview:

Even as a child, I always loved cinema and was thrilled when my parents would take me before the war. Then we were put into the ghetto in Krakòw and there was no cinema, but the Germans often showed newsreels to the people outside the ghetto, on a screen in the market place. And there was one particular corner where you could see the screen through the barbed wire. I remember watching with fascination, although all they were showing was the German army and German tanks, with occasional anti-Jewish slogans inserted on cards.[44]

After the war, he watched films, either at school or at a local cinema, using whatever pocket money he had. Polanski writes, "Most of this went on the movies, but movie seats were dirt cheap, so a little went a long way. I lapped up every kind of film."[45] As time went on, movies became more than an escape into entertainment, as he explains:

Movies were becoming an absolute obsession with me. I was enthralled by everything connected with the cinema — not just the movies themselves but the aura that surrounded them. I loved the luminous rectangle of the screen, the sight of the beam slicing through the darkness from the projection booth, the miraculous synchronization of sound and vision, even the dusty smell of the tip-up seats. More than anything else, though I was fascinated by the actual mechanics of the process.[46]

Early career in Poland

Polanski's star on the Łódź walk of fame

Polanski attended the National Film School in Łódź, the third-largest city in Poland.[47] In the 1950s Polanski took up acting, appearing in Andrzej Wajda's Pokolenie (A Generation, 1954) and in the same year in Silik Sternfeld's Zaczarowany rower (Enchanted Bicycle or Magical Bicycle). Polanski's directorial debut was also in 1955 with a short film Rower (Bicycle). Rower is a semi-autobiographical feature film, believed to be lost, which also starred Polanski. It refers to his real-life violent altercation with a notorious Kraków felon, Janusz Dziuba, who arranged to sell Polanski a bicycle, but instead beat him badly and stole his money. In real life the offender was arrested while fleeing after fracturing Polanski's skull, and executed for three murders, out of eight prior such assaults, which he had committed.[48] Several other short films made during his study at Łódź gained him considerable recognition, particularly Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958) and When Angels Fall (1959). He graduated in 1959.[47]

Film director


Knife in the Water (1962)

Polanski's first feature-length film, Knife in the Water, was also one of the first significant Polish films after the Second World War that did not have a war theme. Scripted by Jerzy Skolimowski, Jakub Goldberg, and Polanski,[49] Knife in the Water is about a wealthy, unhappily married couple who decide to take a mysterious hitchhiker with them on a weekend boating excursion. A dark and unsettling work, Polanski's debut feature subtly evinces a profound pessimism about human relationships with regard to the psychological dynamics and moral consequences of status envy and sexual jealousy. Knife in the Water was 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) in 1963. Leon Niemczyk, who played Andrzej, was the only professional actor in the film. Jolanta Umecka, who played Krystyna, was discovered by Polanski at a swimming pool.[50]

Polanski left then-communist Poland and moved to France, where he had already made two notable short films in 1961: The Fat and the Lean and Mammals. While in France, Polanski contributed one segment ("La rivière de diamants") to the French-produced omnibus film, Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (English title: The Beautiful Swindlers) in 1964. However, Polanski found that in the early 1960s the French film industry was xenophobic and generally unwilling to support a rising filmmaker who was of foreign origin.[51]

Repulsion (1965)

Polanski made three feature films in England, based on original scripts written by himself and Diabolique and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Cul-de-sac (1966)

Cul-de-sac (1966) is a bleak nihilist tragicomedy filmed on location in Northumberland. The general tone and the basic premise of the film owes a great deal to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, along with aspects of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party.

The Fearless Vampire Killers/Dance of the Vampires (1967)

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) (known by its original title, "Dance of the Vampires" in most countries outside the United States) is a parody of vampire films. The plot concerns a buffoonish professor and his clumsy assistant, Alfred (played by Polanski), who are traveling through Transylvania in search of vampires. The ironic and macabre ending is considered classic Polanski. The Fearless Vampire Killers was Polanski's first feature to be photographed in color with the use of Panavision lenses, and included a striking visual style with snow-covered, fairy-tale landscapes, similar to the work of Soviet fantasy filmmakers. In addition, the richly textured color schemes of the settings evoke the magical, kaleidoscopic paintings of the great Belarussian-Jewish artist Marc Chagall, who provides the namesake for the innkeeper in the film. The film was written for Jack MacGowran, who played the lead role of Professor Abronsius.

Polanski met Sharon Tate while the film was being made, where she played the role of the local innkeeper's daughter. They were married in London on 20 January 1968.[52]

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Paramount studio head Robert Evans brought Polanski to America ostensibly to direct the film Downhill Racer, but told Polanski that he really wanted to him to read the horror novel Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin[53] to see if a film could be made out of it.[54] Polanski read it non-stop through the night and the following morning decided he wanted to write as well as direct it. He wrote the 272-page screenplay for the film in slightly longer than three weeks.[55] The film, Rosemary's Baby (1968), was a box-office success and became his first Hollywood production, thereby establishing his reputation as a major commercial filmmaker. The film, a horror-thriller set in trendy Manhattan, is about Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow),[56] a young housewife who is impregnated by the devil. Polanski's screenplay adaptation earned him a second Academy Award nomination.

On 9 August 1969, while Polanski was working in London, his wife, Sharon Tate, and four other people were murdered at the Polanskis' residence in Los Angeles.[57]


Macbeth (1971)

Polanski adapted Macbeth into a screenplay with the Shakespeare expert Kenneth Tynan.[58] Jon Finch and Francesca Annis played the main characters.[59] Hugh Hefner and Playboy Productions funded the film, Macbeth, and it opened in New York and was screened in Playboy Theater.[60] Hefner was also executive producer of the film and the film was listed as a "Playboy Production".[61] The film was controversial because of Lady Macbeth's being nude in a scene,[59] and received an X rating because of its graphic violence and nudity[62] In his autobiography, Polanski wrote that he wanted to be true to the violent nature of the work, and that he had been aware that his first project following Tate's murder, would be subject to scrutiny and probable criticism regardless of the subject matter; if he had made a comedy he would have been perceived as callous.[63]

What? (1973)

Written by Polanski and previous collaborator Gérard Brach, What? (1973) is a mordant absurdist comedy loosely based on the themes of Alice in Wonderland and Henry James. The film is a rambling shaggy dog story about the sexual indignities that befall a winsome young American hippie woman hitchhiking through Europe.

Chinatown (1974)

Polanski returned to Hollywood in 1973 to direct Chinatown for Paramount Pictures. The film is widely considered to be one of the finest American crime movies[64] and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. The stars, Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, both received Oscar nominations, and the script by Robert Towne won for Best Original Screenplay.[15] Polanski appears in a cameo role.

The Tenant (1976)

Polanski returned to Paris for his next film, The Tenant (1976), which was based on a 1964 novel by Roland Topor, a French writer of Polish-Jewish origin. In addition to directing the film, Polanski also played a leading role of a timid Polish immigrant living in Paris. Together with Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, The Tenant can be seen as the third installment in a loose trilogy of films called the "Apartment Trilogy" that explore the themes of social alienation and psychic and emotional breakdown.[16]

In 1978, Polanski became a fugitive from American justice and could no longer work in countries where he might face arrest or extradition.

Tess (1979)

He dedicated his next film, Tess (1979), to the memory of his late wife, Sharon Tate. It was Tate who suggested to Polanski that he read Tess of the d'Urbervilles, as she felt it might make a good film. Nastassja Kinski appeared in the title role opposite Peter Firth and Leigh Lawson.

Tess was shot in the north of France instead of Hardy's England and became the most expensive film made in France up to that time. Ultimately, it proved a financial success and was well received by both critics and the public. Polanski won France's 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, best costume design, and was nominated for best picture.


In 1981, Polanski directed and co-starred (as Mozart) in a stage production of Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus, first in Warsaw, then in Paris.[65][66] The play was again directed by Polanski, in Milan, in 1999.[67]

Pirates (1986)

Nearly seven years passed before Polanski's next film, Pirates, a lavish period piece starring Walter Matthau as Captain Red, which the director intended as an homage to the beloved Errol Flynn swashbucklers of his childhood. Captain Red's henchman, Jean Baptiste, was played by Cris Campion. The film is about a rebellion the two lead on a ship called the Neptune, in the seventeenth century. The screenplay was written by Polanski, Gerard Brach, and John Brownjohn. The film was shot on location in Tunisia,[68] using a full sized pirate vessel constructed for the production. It was a financial and critical failure, recovering a small fraction of its production budget and garnering a single Academy Award nomination.[69]

Frantic (1988)

Frantic (1988) was Hitchcockian suspense-thriller starring Harrison Ford[70] and the actress/model Emmanuelle Seigner,[71] who later became Polanski's wife. The film follows an ordinary tourist in Paris whose wife is kidnapped. He attempts, hopelessly, to go through the Byzantine bureaucratic channels to deal with her disappearance, but finally takes matters into his own hands.


Polanski with wife Emmanuelle Seigner at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.

Polanski followed this with the dark psycho-sexual film Bitter Moon (1992), followed by a film of the acclaimed play Death and the Maiden (1994) starring Sigourney Weaver.

The Ninth Gate (1999)

The Ninth Gate is a thriller based on the novel El Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte and starring Johnny Depp. The movie's plot is based on the idea that an ancient text called "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadow", authored by Aristide Torchia along with Lucifer, are the key to raising Satan.[72]

In 1997, Polanski directed a stage version of his 1967 film The Fearless Vampire Killers, which debuted in Vienna[73] followed by successful runs in Stuttgart, Hamburg, Berlin, and Budapest. On 11 March 1998, Polanski was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.[74]


Polanski at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival for The Pianist
The Pianist (2002)

In 2001, Polanski filmed The Pianist, an adaptation of the WWII autobiography of the same name by Polish-Jewish musician Władysław Szpilman. Szpilman's experiences as a persecuted Jew in Poland during WWII were reminiscent of Polanski and his family. While Szpilman and Polanski escaped the concentration camps, their families did not, eventually perishing.

When Warsaw, Poland was chosen for the 2002 premiere of The Pianist, "the country exploded with pride." According to reports, numerous former communists came to the screening and "agreed that it was a fantastic film."[75]

In May 2002, the film won the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) award at the Cannes Film Festival,[76] as well as Césars for Best Film and Best Director, and later the 2002 Academy Award for Directing. Because he would have been arrested in the United States, Polanski did not attend the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood. After the announcement of the Best Director Award, Polanski received a standing ovation from most of those present in the theater. Actor Harrison Ford accepted the award for Polanski, and then presented the Oscar to him at the Deauville Film Festival five months later in a public ceremony.[77] Polanski later received the Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2004.

Oliver Twist (2005)

Oliver Twist is an adaptation of Dickens's classic, written by The Pianist's Ronald Harwood and shot in Prague.[78] Polanski said in interviews that he made the film as something he could show his children, and that the life of the young scavenger mirrored his own life, fending for himself in World War II Poland.

Polanski and Spanish writer Diego Moldes (es), Madrid, 2005


The Ghost Writer (2010)

The Ghost Writer, a thriller focusing on a ghostwriter working on the memoirs of a character based loosely on former British prime minister Tony Blair, swept the European Film Awards in 2010, winning six awards, including best movie, director, actor and screenplay.[79] When it premiered at the 60th Berlinale in February 2010, Polanski won a Silver Bear for Best Director,[80] and in February 2011, it won four César Awards, France's version of the Academy Awards.[81]

The film is based on a novel by British writer Robert Harris. Harris and Polanski had previously worked for many months on a film of Harris's earlier novel Pompeii. They had completed a script and were nearing production when the film was cancelled due to a looming actors' strike in 2007. After that film fell apart, they moved on to Harris's novel, The Ghost, and adapted it for the screen together.

The cast includes Ewan McGregor as the writer and Pierce Brosnan as former British Prime Minister Adam Lang. The film was shot on locations in Germany.[82]

In the United States, film critic Roger Ebert included it in his top 10 pick for 2010, and states that "this movie is the work of a man who knows how to direct a thriller. Smooth, calm, confident, it builds suspense instead of depending on shock and action."[83] Co-star Ewan McGregor agrees, saying about Polanski that "he's a legend... I've never examined a director and the way that they work, so much before. He's brilliant, just brilliant, and absolutely warrants his reputation as a great director."[84]

At the premiere of Carnage in Paris, November 2011
Carnage (2011)

Polanski shot Carnage in February/March 2011. The film is a screen version of Yasmina Reza's play God of Carnage, a comedy about the relationship between two couples after their children get in a fight at school and the selfishness of everyone, which eventually leads to chaos. It stars Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly. Though set in New York, it was shot in Paris.[85] The film had its world premiere on 9 September 2011 at the Venice Film Festival and was released in the United States by Sony Pictures Classics on 16 December 2011.

Co-stars Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet commented about Polanski's directing style. According to Foster, "He has a very, very definitive style about how he likes it done. He decides everything. He decided every lens. Every prop. Everything. It's all him."[86] Winslet adds that "Roman is one of the most extraordinary men I've ever met. The guy is 77 years old. He has an effervescent quality to him. He's very joyful about his work, which is infectious. He likes to have a small crew, to the point that, when I walked on the set, my thought was, 'My God, this is it?'”[87] Also noting that style of directing, New York Film Festival director Richard Pena, during the American premier of the film, called Polanski "a poet of small spaces... in just a couple of rooms he can conjure up an entire world, an entire society."[88]

Venus in Fur (2013)

His latest film is an adaptation of the award-winning play Venus in Fur, starring his wife Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric. Polanski worked with the play's author, David Ives on the screenplay.[89] The film was shot from December 2012 to February 2013[90] in French and is Polanski's first non-English language feature film in forty years.[91] The film premiered in competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.[92] on 25 May 2013.

D (2013)

Polanski is currently preparing to shoot D, a film about the notorious Dreyfus affair in the 19th century, in which one of the few Jewish members of the French Army's general staff was wrongly convicted of passing military secrets to the German Empire and sent to Devil's Island, only to be acquitted 12 years later. The film is written by Robert Harris, who is working with Polanski for the third time.[93] In June 2014, Robert Benmussa, the film's producer, announced that D's filming may take place in Kraków, Poland - the final decision depending on the technological facilities available on site and the director's security.[94]

Marriages and relationships

Barbara Kwiatkowska-Lass

Polanski's first wife, Barbara Lass (née Kwiatkowska),[28] was a Polish actress who also starred in Polanski's 1959 When Angels Fall.[95] The couple were married in 1959 and divorced in 1961.[28]

Sharon Tate

Sharon Tate in the trailer for the film Eye of the Devil.

Polanski met rising actress Sharon Tate while filming The Fearless Vampire Killers, and during the production the two of them began dating.[96] On 20 January 1968, Polanski married Tate in London.[97]

In August 1969, while Polanski was in Europe working on a film, Tate was murdered along with four of their friends at their home in Los Angeles by members of Charles Manson's "family," a group of young, gullible, and mostly female followers. Tate was pregnant at the time of her murder.

Manson, along with members of his "family" were arrested in late 1969, and eventually tried and found guilty in 1971 of 27 counts, including first-degree murder, an event now called the Manson murders. Because at the time it was one of the most "horrific crimes in modern history," the crime and trial of Manson and his followers became a media sensation, leading to movies, documentaries and bestselling books.[98]

Polanski has said that his absence on the night of the murders is the greatest regret of his life.[99] In his autobiography, he wrote, "Sharon's death is the only watershed in my life that really matters", and commented that her murder changed his personality from a "boundless, untroubled sea of expectations and optimism" to one of "ingrained pessimism ... eternal dissatisfaction with life".[100] In his autobiography, Polanski described his brief time with Tate as the best years of his life.

Polanski was also left with a very negative impression of the press, which he felt was interested in sensationalizing the lives of the victims, and indirectly himself, to attract readers. He was shocked by the lack of sympathy expressed in various news stories:

I had long known that it was impossible for a journalist to convey 100 percent of the truth, but I didn't realize to what extent the truth is distorted, both by the intentions of the journalist and by neglect. I don't mean just the interpretations of what happened; I also mean the facts. The reporting about Sharon and the murders was virtually criminal. Reading the papers, I could not believe my eyes. I could not believe my eyes! They blamed the victims for their own murders. I really despise the press. I didn't always. The press made me despise it.[44]

Among the media-generated sensationalism were rumors that claimed Tate and her visitors were taking drugs, despite the coroner announcing that no traces of drugs or nicotine were found after Tate's autopsy.[101] For years afterward, notes Sandford, "reporters openly speculated about the Polanskis' home life" and their personalities in order to create more media gossip about the private lives of Hollywood celebrities.[28]:2

Nastassja Kinski

Polanski and Emmanuelle Seigner at the César Awards 2011.

In 1976, Polanski started a romantic relationship with Nastassja Kinski, who starred in Tess. She was between 15 and 17 years old at the time and he was 43. Their relationship ended at the completion of filming.[102][103] In an interview with David Letterman in 1982, she described their relationship and gave her opinion about his sexual assault case, claiming it was "ridiculous" and his residence in France was "a loss for America."[104]

Emmanuelle Seigner

In 1989, Polanski married French actress [105] Polanski and his children speak Polish at home.[106]

Legal history

Sexual abuse case

On 11 March 1977, Polanski, then 43 years old, was arrested in Los Angeles for the sexual assault of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer during a photo shoot for French Vogue magazine. Polanski was indicted on six counts of criminal behavior, including rape.[105][107] At his arraignment he pled not guilty to all charges. Many executives in Hollywood came to his defense.[108]

Geimer's attorney next arranged a plea bargain in which five of the six charges would be dismissed, and Polanski accepted.[109] Because Polanski fled the country before final sentencing, the charges were not dismissed and still remain pending.

Polanski in 2007.

As a result of the plea bargain, Polanski pled guilty to the charge of "Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a minor,"[110][111] and was ordered to undergo 90 days of psychiatric evaluation at California Institution for Men at Chino.[112] On release from prison after 42 days, Polanski understood that at the final sentencing he would be put on probation. However, he learned that the judge was planning to renege on his promise of no further jail time,[113] and might even deport him.[111][114] Polanski's attorney suggested that despite the fact that the prosecuting attorneys recommended probation, "the judge could no longer be trusted..." and the judge's representations were "worthless."[115]

Upon learning of the judge's plans, Polanski fled to France on 1 February 1978, just hours before sentencing.[116] As a French citizen, he has been protected from extradition and has lived mostly in France since then.[117]

In an interview with Larry King, Geimer said that the police and media had been slow at the time of the assault to believe her account, which she attributed to the climate of the era.[118] In 1988 she sued Polanski. Among other things, the suit alleged sexual assault, false imprisonment, seduction of a minor, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In 1993 Polanski agreed to settle with Geimer. In August 1996 Polanski still owed her $604,416; Geimer and her lawyers later confirmed that the settlement was completed.[118][119]

On 26 September 2009, Polanski was arrested while in Switzerland at the request of United States authorities.[120] The arrest brought renewed attention to the case and stirred controversy, particularly in the United States and Europe.[113] Polanski was defended by many prominent individuals, including Hollywood celebrities and European artists and politicians, who called for his release.[121] American public opinion was reported to run against him, however,[122][123] and polls in France and Poland showed strong majorities favored his extradition to the United States.[124][125]

Polanski was jailed near Zürich for two months, then put under house arrest at his home in Gstaad while awaiting decision of appeals fighting extradition.[126] On 12 July 2010 the Swiss rejected the United States request, declared him a "free man" and released him from custody.[127] Polanski remains the subject of an Interpol red notice issued in 2005 at the request of the United States.[128]

During a television interview on 10 March 2011, Geimer blamed the media, reporters, the court, and the judge for causing "way more damage to [her] and [her] family than anything Roman Polanski has ever done," and stated that the judge was using her and a noted celebrity for his own personal gain from the media exposure.[118][129]

In January, 2014, newly uncovered emails by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge from 2008, indicated that if Polanski returned to the United States for a hearing, he might be compelled to free him because of the conduct by the judge who originally handled the case. The emails which were disclosed were related to a 2008 documentary film by Marina Zenovich.[130][131] In late October 2014, Polanski was questioned by prosecutors in Kraków.[132]

Documentary films

In 2008 the documentary film by Marina Zenovich, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, was released in Europe and the United States where it won numerous awards.[133] The film focuses on the judge in the case and the possible reasons why he changed his mind. It includes interviews with people involved in the case, including the victim, Geimer, and the prosecutor, Roger Gunson. Geimer said that the judge "didn't care what happened" to her or Polanski, but "was orchestrating some little show,"[115] while Gunson added, "I'm not surprised that Polanski left under those circumstances, ... it was going to be a real circus."[115][134]

Former DA David Wells, whose statements were the most damning against Polanski, and who said he advised the judge to imprison Polanski, admitted that he lied about those statements, and said that to the press to "play up" his own role.[135][136]

In December 2009, a California appellate court discussed the film's allegations as it denied Polanski's request to have the case dismissed. While saying they "deeply concerned" the court, and were "in many cases supported by considerable evidence," it also found that “(e)ven in light of our fundamental concern about the misconduct ... flight was not Polanski’s only option. It was not even his best option." It said dismissal of the case, which would erase Polanski's guilty plea, wouldn't be an "appropriate result," and that he still had other legal options.[113][137]

In September 2011, the documentary film Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, had its world premiere in Zürich, Switzerland. During an interview in the film, he offers his apology to Geimer: "She is a double victim: My victim, and a victim of the press."[21] On this occasion, he collected the lifetime achievement award he was to receive at the time of his arrest two years earlier.[138]

Vanity Fair libel case

In 2004, Polanski sued Vanity Fair magazine in London for libel. A 2002 article in the magazine claimed that Polanski promised he would "make another Sharon Tate out of you" in an attempt to seduce a Scandinavian model while he was travelling to Tate's funeral. He received supporting testimony from Mia Farrow, and Vanity Fair "was unable to prove that the incident occurred." Polanski was awarded £50,000 in damages plus some of his legal costs.[139]



Year Film Oscar
Oscar wins
1955 Zaczarowany rower (also as Bicycle)
1957 Morderstwo (also as A Murderer)
Uśmiech zębiczny (also as A Toothful Smile)
Rozbijemy zabawę (also as Break Up the Dance)
1958 Dwaj ludzie z szafą (also as Two Men and a Wardrobe)
1959 Lampa (also as The Lamp)
Gdy spadają anioły (also as When Angels Fall)
1961 Le Gros et le maigre (also as The Fat and the Lean)
Ssaki (also as Mammals)
1962 Nóż w wodzie (also as Knife in the Water) 1
1964 Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (also as The Beautiful Swindlers)—segment: "La rivière de diamants"
1965 Repulsion*
1966 Cul-de-sac
1967 The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, Madam, but Your Teeth Are in My Neck (also as Dance of the Vampires)
1968 Rosemary's Baby* 2 1
1971 Macbeth
1972 Weekend of a Champion
1972 What? (also as Diary of Forbidden Dreams)
1974 Chinatown 11 1
1976 Le Locataire (also as The Tenant)*
1979 Tess 6 3
1986 Pirates 1
1988 Frantic
1992 Bitter Moon
1994 Death and the Maiden
1999 The Ninth Gate
2002 The Pianist 7 3
2005 Oliver Twist
2007 To Each His Own Cinema (segment Cinéma erotique)
2010 The Ghost Writer
2011 Carnage
2012 A Therapy (short film for Prada)
2013 Venus in Fur

*These movies are part of his "Apartment Trilogy".[16]


  • Trzy opowieści (a.k.a. Three Stories) as Genek 'The Little' (segment "Jacek", 1953)
  • Zaczarowany rower (a.k.a. Magical Bicycle) as Adas (1955)
  • Rower (a.k.a. Bicycle) as the Boy who wants to buy a bicycle (1955)
  • Pokolenie (a.k.a. A Generation) as Mundek (1955)
  • Nikodem Dyzma as the Boy at Hotel (1956)
  • Wraki (a.k.a. The Wrecks, 1957)
  • Koniec nocy (a.k.a. End of the Night) as the Little One (1957)
  • Dwaj ludzie z szafą (a.k.a. Two Men and a Wardrobe) as the Bad boy (1958)
  • Zadzwońcie do mojej żony? (a.k.a. Call My Wife) as a Dancer (1958)
  • Gdy spadają anioły (a.k.a. When Angels Fall Down) as an Old woman (1959)
  • Lotna as a Musician (1959)
  • Zezowate szczęście (a.k.a. Bad Luck) as Jola's Tutor (1960)
  • Do widzenia, do jutra (a.k.a. Good Bye, Till Tomorrow) as Romek (1960)
  • Niewinni czarodzieje (a.k.a. Innocent Sorcerers) as Dudzio (1960)
  • Ostrożnie, Yeti! (a.k.a. Beware of Yeti!, 1961)
  • Gros et le maigre, Le (a.k.a. The Fat and the Lean) as The Lean (1961)
  • Samson (1961)
  • Nóż w wodzie (a.k.a. Knife in the Water) voice of Young Boy (1962)
  • Repulsion as Spoon Player (1965)
  • The Fearless Vampire Killers as Alfred, Abronsius' Assistant (1967)
  • The Magic Christian as Solitary drinker (1969)
  • What? as Mosquito (1972)
  • Chinatown as Man with Knife (1974)
  • Blood for Dracula (Andy Warhol) as Man in Tavern (1976)
  • Locataire, Le (a.k.a. The Tenant) as Trelkovsky (1976)
  • Chassé-croisé (1982)
  • En attendant Godot (TV) as Lucky (1989)
  • Back in the USSR as Kurilov (1992)
  • Una pura formalità (a.k.a. A Pure Formality) as Inspector (1994)
  • Grosse fatigue (a.k.a. Dead Tired) as Roman Polanski (1994)
  • Hommage à Alfred (a.k.a. Tribute to Alfred Lepetit, 2000)
  • Zemsta (a.k.a. The Revenge) as Papkin (2002)
  • Rush Hour 3 as Detective Revi (2007)
  • Caos calmo (a.k.a. Quiet Chaos (film)) as Steiner (2007)


Awards and nominations

Polanski in 2011 at the Zürich Film Festival.
Year Award Category Result
1963 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Foreign Language Film (Knife in the Water) Nominated[142]
1965 Berlin Film Festival Silver Berlin Bear-Extraordinary Jury Prize (Repulsion) Won[143]
1966 Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear (Cul-de-sac) Won[144]
1968 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best screenplay adaptation (Rosemary's Baby) Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award for Best Director (Chinatown) Nominated[145]
1974 Golden Globe Awards Golden Globe Award for Best Director (Chinatown) Won
1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Best Direction (Chinatown) Won
1979 César Award César Award for Best Picture (Tess) Won
1979 César Award César Award for Best Director (Tess) Won
1979 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award for Directing (Tess) Nominated[146]
1979 Golden Globe Awards Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film (Tess) Won
1979 Golden Globe Awards Golden Globe Award for Best Director—Motion Picture (Tess) Nominated
2002 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or (The Pianist) Won[76]
2002 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Best Film; Best Director (The Pianist) Won[147]
2002 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award for Best Director (The Pianist) Won
2002 César Award César Award for Best Director (The Pianist) Won
2002 César Award César Award for Best Film (The Pianist) Won
2004 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Crystal Globe for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema Won
2009 Zürich Film Festival Golden Icon Award Lifetime achievement Won[18][19][20]
2010 Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear for Best Director (The Ghost Writer) Won[148]
2010 European Film Awards Best Film; Best Director; Best Screenwriter (The Ghost Writer) Won[79]
2010 Lumiere Awards (France's Golden Globes) Best Director; Best Screenwriter (The Ghost Writer) Won[149]
2011 César Award César Award for Best Director (The Ghost Writer) Won
2011 César Award César Award for Best Screenwriter (The Ghost Writer) Won
2014 César Award César Award for Best Film (Venus in Fur) Pending
2014 César Award César Award for Best Director (Venus in Fur) Pending
2014 César Award César Award for Best Screenwriter (Venus in Fur) Pending

Other awards

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

  • 1980: Tess nominated for Best Direction
  • 1980: Tess nominated for Best Foreign Film
  • 1974: Chinatown nominated for Best Film
  • 1971: Macbeth nominated for Best Direction
  • 1971: Macbeth nominated for Best Film
  • 1965: Repulsion nominated for Best Direction
  • 1965: Repulsion nominated for Best Screenwriting

Venice Film Festival

  • 1966: Cul De Sac nominated for National Syndication of Italian Film Journalists
  • 1962: Knife in the Water won for Fipresci Prize



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