Roman Polanski

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Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski 2011 2.jpg
Roman Polanski in 2011
Raymond Thierry Liebling

(1933-08-18) 18 August 1933 (age 88)
Paris, France
CitizenshipPoland, France[1]
OccupationFilm director, producer, screenwriter, actor
Years active1953–present
(m. 1959; div. 1962)
(m. 1968; died 1969)
(m. 1989)
Children2; including Morgane Polanski

Roman Polanski (Polish: Roman Polański /pəˈlænski/, pə-LAN-skee, [ˈrɔman pɔˈlaj̃skʲi] (About this soundListen); born Raymond Thierry Liebling;[2] 18 August 1933) is a Polish-French[3][1] film director, producer, screenwriter, and actor. Polanski is also a fugitive from the U.S. criminal justice system; he fled the country in 1978 while awaiting sentencing for unlawful intercourse with a minor.[4]

His Polish-Jewish parents moved the family back from Paris to Kraków in 1937.[5] Two years later, Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany starting World War II and the family found themselves trapped in the Kraków Ghetto. After his mother and father were taken in raids, Polanski spent his formative years in foster homes under an adopted identity, surviving the Holocaust.[6]

Polanski's first feature-length film, Knife in the Water (1962), was made in Poland and was nominated for the United States Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[7] 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). A turning point in his life took place in 1969, when his pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, and four friends were brutally murdered by members of the Manson Family.[8] He made Macbeth (1971) in England and Chinatown (1974) back in Hollywood.[9]

In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. As a result of a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of unlawful sex with a minor. In 1978, after learning that the judge planned to reject his plea deal and impose a prison term instead of probation, he fled to Paris.

After fleeing to Europe, Polanski continued directing. His other critically acclaimed films include Tess (1979), The Pianist (2002), The Ghost Writer (2010), Venus in Fur (2013), and An Officer and a Spy (2019). Throughout his career Polanski has received five Oscar nominations, winning the Academy Award for Best Director in 2003 for The Pianist. He has also received two Golden Globe Awards, two BAFTAs, a Palme d'Or of the 2002 Cannes Film Festival in France, as well as multiple Césars.

Early life[]

Polanski was born in Paris; he was the son of Bula "Bella" (née Katz-Przedborska) and Mojżesz Liebling, a painter and manufacturer of sculptures, who after World War II was known as Ryszard Polański.[10] Polanski's father was Jewish and originally from Poland; Polanski's mother, born in Russia, had been raised Roman Catholic and was of half Jewish ancestry.[11][12][13] 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.[14] Polanski's parents were both agnostics.[15] Polanski later stated that he was an atheist.[16]

World War II[]

The Polański family moved back to the Polish city of Kraków in early 1937,[5] and were living there when World War II began with the invasion of Poland. Kraków was soon occupied by the German forces, and the racist and anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws made the Polańskis targets of persecution, forcing them into the Kraków Ghetto, along with thousands of the city's Jews.[6] Around the age of six, 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 the requirement that all Jewish children over the age of twelve 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.[17]:18[18] 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 German death camps. He watched 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.[19]

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 Warsaw Ghetto, a real-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!"[17]:24

Polanski escaped the Kraków Ghetto in 1943 and survived with the help of some Polish Roman Catholics, including a woman who had promised Polanski's father that she would shelter the boy.[17]:21 Polanski 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, and ultimately said, "You aren't one of us".[20] The punishment for helping a Jew in German-occupied Poland was death.[21]

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."[22] Author Ian Freer concludes that Polanski's constant childhood fears and dread of violence have contributed to the "tangible atmospheres he conjures up on film."[22]

By the time the war ended in 1945, a fifth of the Polish population had been killed,[23] with the vast majority of the victims being civilians. Of those deaths, 3 million were Polish Jews, which accounted for 90% of the country's Jewish population.[24] 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).[17]:13

After the war[]

After the war, he was reunited with his father and moved back to Kraków. His father remarried on 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![25]

He stated that "you must live in a Communist country to really understand how bad it can be. Then you will appreciate capitalism."[25] 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.[26]

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.[27]

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."[28] 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.[29]

He was above all influenced by Sir Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947) - "I still consider it as one of the best movies I've ever seen and a film which made me want to pursue this career more than anything else ... I always dreamt of doing things of this sort or that style. To a certain extent I must say that I somehow perpetuate the ideas of that movie in what I do."[30]

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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[31]

Film director[]


Polanski in 1969

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,[33] 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. 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.[34]

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. (He has since had the segment removed from all releases of the film.)[35] However, Polanski found that in the early 1960s, the French film industry was xenophobic and generally unwilling to support a rising filmmaker of foreign origin.[36]

Repulsion (1965)[]

Polanski made three feature films in England, based on original scripts written by himself and Gérard Brach, a frequent collaborator. Repulsion (1965) is a psychological horror film focusing on a young Belgian woman named Carol (Catherine Deneuve).

The film's themes, situations, visual motifs, and effects clearly reflect the influence of early surrealist cinema as well as horror movies of the 1950s—particularly Luis Buñuel's Un chien Andalou, Jean Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet, Henri-Georges Clouzot's 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 tone and premise of the film owe 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 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 paintings of the Belarusian-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 making the film; she played the role of the local innkeeper's daughter. They were married in London on 20 January 1968.[37] Shortly after they married, Polanski, with Tate at his side during a documentary film, described the demands of young movie viewers who he said always wanted to see something "new" and "different".[38]

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 him to read the horror novel Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin[39] to see if a film could be made out of it.[40] 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 in slightly longer than three weeks.[41] 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),[42] 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 pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and four other people were murdered at the Polanskis' residence in Los Angeles by cult leader Charles Manson's followers.[43]


Macbeth (1971)[]

Polanski adapted Macbeth into a screenplay with the Shakespeare expert Kenneth Tynan.[44] Jon Finch and Francesca Annis played the main characters.[45] Hugh Hefner and Playboy Productions funded the 1971 film, which opened in New York and was screened in Playboy Theater.[46] Hefner was credited as executive producer, and the film was listed as a "Playboy Production".[47] It was controversial because of Lady Macbeth's being nude in a scene,[45] and received an X rating because of its graphic violence and nudity.[48] 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.[49]

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 was an outstanding director. There was no question, after three days seeing him operate, that here was a really top talent.

Co-star John Huston[50]

Polanski returned to Hollywood in 1973 to direct Chinatown (1974) for Paramount Pictures. The film is widely considered to be one of the finest American mystery crime movies, inspired by the real-life California Water Wars, a series of disputes over southern California water at the beginning of the 20th century.[51]

It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including those for actors Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Robert Towne won for Best Original Screenplay.[9] It also had actor-director John Huston in a supporting role,[52] and was the last film Polanski directed in the United States. In 1991, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and it is frequently listed as among the best in world cinema.[53][54][55]

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 explores the themes of social alienation and psychic and emotional breakdown.[56]

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 first suggested he read Tess of the d'Urbervilles, which she thought would make a good film; he subsequently expected her to star in it.[57] Nearly a decade after Tate's death, he met Nastassja Kinski, a model and aspiring young actress who had already been in a number of European films. He offered her the starring role, which she accepted. Her father was Klaus Kinski, a leading German actor, who had introduced her to films.

Because the role required having a local dialect, Polanski sent her to London for five months of study and to spend time in the Dorset countryside to get a flavor of the region.[57] In the film, Kinski starred opposite Peter Firth and Leigh Lawson.[58]

[Polanski] took a lot of time, two years, preparing me for that film. ... He was strict with me, but in a good way. He made me feel smart, that I could do things.

Nastassja Kinski[59]

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.

At the time, there were rumors that Polanski and Kinski became romantically involved, which he confirmed in a 1994 interview with Diane Sawyer,[60] but she says the rumors are untrue; they were never lovers or had an affair.[61] She admits that "there was a flirtation. There could have been a seduction, but there was not. He had respect for me."[62] She also recalls his influence on her while filming: "He was really a gentleman, not at all like the things I had heard. He introduced me to beautiful books, plays, movies. He educated me."[57] On an emotional level, she said years later that "he was one of the people in my life who cared, ... who took me seriously and gave me a lot of strength."[61] She told David Letterman more about her experience working with Polanski during an interview.[63]


Roman Polanski in Milan, Italy, 1984

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.[64][65] The play was again directed by Polanski, in Milan, in 1999.[66]

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 led on a ship called the Neptune, in the seventeenth century. The screenplay was written by Polanski, Gérard Brach, and John Brownjohn. The film was shot on location in Tunisia,[67] 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.[68]

Frantic (1988)[]

Frantic (1988) was a Hitchcockian suspense-thriller starring Harrison Ford[69] and the actress/model Emmanuelle Seigner,[70] 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.


Bitter Moon (1992)[]

In 1992 Polanski followed with the dark psycho-sexual film Bitter Moon.

Death and the Maiden (1994)[]

In 1994 Polanski directed a film of the acclaimed play Death and the Maiden.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1997)[]

In 1997, Polanski directed a stage version of his 1967 film The Fearless Vampire Killers, which debuted in Vienna[71] 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.[72]

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 Shadows", authored by Aristide Torchia along with Lucifer, is the key to raising Satan.[73]


Polanski at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival for The Pianist

The Pianist (2002)[]

In 2001, Polanski filmed The Pianist, an adaptation of the World War II autobiography of the same name by Polish-Jewish musician Władysław Szpilman. Szpilman's experiences as a persecuted Jew in Poland during World War II were reminiscent of those 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."[74]

In May 2002, the film won the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) award at the Cannes Film Festival,[75] as well as Césars for Best Film and Best Director, and later the 2002 Academy Award for Best Director. Because Polanski would have been arrested in the United States, he 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.[76] 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 Charles Dickens' novel, written by The Pianist's Ronald Harwood and shot in Prague.[77] 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, 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.[78] When it premiered at the 60th Berlinale in February 2010, Polanski won a Silver Bear for Best Director,[79] and in February 2011, it won four César Awards, France's version of the Academy Awards.[80]

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, a novel that was actually inspired by Polanski's Chinatown.[81] They had completed a script for Pompeii and were nearing production when the film was cancelled due to a looming actors' strike in September 2007.[82] 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.[83]

In the United States, film critic Roger Ebert included it in his top 10 picks 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."[84] Co-star Ewan McGregor agreed, having said 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."[85]

Polanski and Emmanuelle Seigner at the César Awards in 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 two couples who meet after their children get in a fight at school, and how their initially civilized conversation devolves into chaos. It stars Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly. Though set in New York, it was shot in Paris. 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.[citation needed]

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 premiere 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]

Polanski makes an uncredited cameo appearance as a neighbor.

Venus in Fur (2013)[]

Roman Polanski, Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric promoting Venus in Fur at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013

Polanski's French-language adaptation of the award-winning play Venus in Fur, stars 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.

Based on a True Story (2017)[]

Polanski promoting Based on a True Story at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival

Polanski's Based on a True Story is an adaptation of the French novel by bestselling author Delphine de Vignan.[93] The film follows a writer (Emmanuelle Seigner) struggling to complete a new novel, while followed by an obsessed fan (Eva Green). It started production in November 2016 from a script adapted by Polanski and Olivier Assayas.[94] It premiered out of competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival on 27 May 2017[95] and opened in France on 1 November 2017.

An Officer and a Spy (2019)[]

Polanski's next film, An Officer and a Spy, centers on the notorious 19th century Dreyfus affair, The film stars Jean Dujardin as French officer Georges Picquart and follows his struggle from 1896–1906 to expose the truth about the doctored evidence that led to Alfred Dreyfus, one of the few Jewish members of the French Army's general staff, being wrongly convicted of passing military secrets to the German Empire and sent to Devil's Island. The film is written by Robert Harris, who is working with Polanski for the third time.[96] It co-stars Louis Garrel as Dreyfus, Mathieu Amalric, Olivier Gourmet and Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner.[97] It is being produced by Alain Goldman's Legende Films and distributed by Gaumont.[98] Filming began on 26 November 2018[99] and was completed on 28 April 2019.[100]

Although set in Paris, the film was first scheduled to shoot in Warsaw in 2014, for economic reasons.[101] However, production was postponed after Polanski moved to Poland for filming and the U.S. Government filed extradition papers. The Polish government eventually rejected them, by which time new French film tax credits had been introduced, allowing the film to shoot on location in Paris. It was budgeted at 60m and was again set to start production in July 2016,[102] however its production was postponed as Polanski waited on the availability of a star, whose name was not announced.[103] In a 2017 interview Polanski discussed the difficulty of the project:

The problem of the film is the combination of casting and financing, it's an expensive film and films of this scale are only made with a bankable star, as they say vulgarly, and the stars capable of satisfying the financial requirement I do not necessarily see in the role of Picquart, who is our main character. Apart from that, there are about fifty important roles. They should all speak with the same accent in English, otherwise it would be appalling. It is necessary so that the film can be sold around the world. To unlock the financial means to produce such a project is impossible if you shoot in French."[104]

It had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on 30 August 2019.[105][106] It received a standing ovation and won the Grand Jury Prize.[107][108][109][110] It is scheduled to be released in France on 13 November 2019, by Gaumont.[111] The film has received backlash due to the plot of the film relating to Polanski's sexual abuse case and further accusations of harassment and assault.[112][113][114]


Fifth César Award for Best Director[]

In February 2020, Polanski won Best Director at France's 2020 Cesar Awards. Neither Polanski nor the cast and crew of An Officer and a Spy (J'accuse) attended the awards ceremony hosted at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Polanski said that he will not submit himself to a "public lynching" over rape accusations he denies. Addressing the accusations of sexual assault leveled at him, he said, "Fantasies of unhealthy minds are now treated as proven facts."[115] This is Polanski's fifth Best Director Cesar win, the record for a single director; he previously won for Tess, The Pianist, The Ghost Writer, and Venus in Fur.[116]

Prior to the awards ceremony, Polanski released a statement, saying, "For several days, people have asked me this question: Will I or won't I attend the Cesar ceremony? The question I ask in turn is this: How could I?. [...] The way the night will unfold, we already know in advance," he continued. "Activists have already threatened me with a public lynching, some have announced protests in front of the Salle Pleyel. Others intend to make it a platform to denounce (the) governing body. It promises to look more like a symposium than a celebration of cinema." Polanski said he was skipping the ceremony in order to protect his team as well as his wife and children, who "have been made to suffer injuries and affronts." Making reference to the recent media scandal that led to the Cesar board's mass resignation, Polanski added: "The press and social media have presented our 12 nominations as if they were gifts offered to us by the academy's board of directors, as some authoritarian gesture that had forced their resignations. Doing so undermines the secret vote of the 4,313 professionals who alone decide the nominations and the more than 1.5 million viewers who came to see the film."[117]

Despite Polanski's absence from the awards ceremony, his nomination and win sparked protests due to the rape charges that he still faces. The protestors held up signs with slogans like "Shame on an industry that protects rapists." Police clashed with protestors, even firing tear gas upon them. Actions were also taken by celebrities, such as Adèle Haenel, Noémie Merlant, and Celine Sciamma who walked out of the awards.[118][119] Many other celebrities and feminists spoke out against Polanski online, such as NousToutes, a French feminist collective, who called the win "shameful", and Jessica Chastain tweeted, "I Fucking Stan" in regard to the protests. At the same time some celebrities came to his defense, like actress Fanny Ardant, who said, "When I love someone, I love them passionately. And I love Roman Polanski a lot... a lot... So I'm very happy for him. Then, I understand that not everyone agrees but long live freedom!" and actress Brigitte Bardot who said, "Thankfully Polanski exists and he is saving cinema from its mediocrity! I judge him on his talent and not on his private life! I regret never having shot with him!".[120] The actor Lambert Wilson called the protest campaign against Polanski "abominable public lynching",[121] as did Isabelle Huppert, who stated that "lynching is a form of pornography".[122] Likewise, Polanski's alleged victim Samantha Geimer criticized the protesters as "very opportunistic", and said that "If you want to change the world today, you do it by... demanding people be held accountable today, not by picking someone who is famous and thinking that if you demonise him for things that happened decades ago that somehow that has any value in protecting people and changing society".[123]

In an interview to promote the film, Polanski admitted: "I am familiar with many of the workings of the apparatus of persecution shown in the film... I can see the same determination to deny the facts and condemn me for things I have not done. Most of the people who harass me do not know me and know nothing about the case."[124]

In October 2020, Polanski went back to Poland and paid respects to a Polish couple who helped him hide and escape the Nazis. Stefania and Jan Buchala were recognized by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, as "Righteous Among the Nations". Polanski recalled Stefania Buchala as being an "extremely noble" and courageous person.[125]

In April 2021 it was announced that Polanski is planning to direct a new film with a screenplay written by himself together with fellow Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski. The working title is The Palace. Polanski worked with Skolimowski before on the screenplay of his first feature, Knife in the Water, in 1962. Rai Cinema and Eliseo Entertainment are producing the project.[126][127][128]

Personal life[]

In 1959, Polanski married actress Barbara Kwiatkowska-Lass. She starred in his short film When Angels Fall. The couple divorced in 1961.[17][129]

Polanski met actress Sharon Tate while filming The Fearless Vampire Killers, and during the production, the two of them began dating.[130] On 20 January 1968, Polanski and Tate married in London.[131]

In February 1969 Polanski and Tate began renting a Los Angeles home. In August, while Polanski was in Europe working on a film, Tate remained home, eight-and-a-half months pregnant. The Manson Family cult broke into the home late the evening of August 8 and proceeded to murder Tate and four others. Tate's unborn child was posthumously named Paul Richard Polanski. Charles Manson, along with members of the cult, was arrested in late 1969, eventually tried, and found guilty in 1971 of first-degree murder.[132]

Polanski has said that his absence on the night of the murders is the greatest regret of his life.[133] He wrote in his autobiography: "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".[134] Polanski was left with a 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.[27]

Among the media-generated sensationalism were rumors that claimed Tate and her visitors were taking drugs, despite the coroner's announcing that no traces of drugs were found after Tate's autopsy.[135] 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.[17]:2

In 1989, Polanski married actress Emmanuelle Seigner. They have two children, daughter Morgane and son Elvis.[136] Polanski and his children speak Polish at home.[137]

In May 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to expel Polanski from its membership.[138] The same year, his wife Emmanuelle Seigner rejected the invitation to join the Academy, denouncing the "hypocrisy" of a group that expelled Polanski.[139]

Legal history[]

In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. As a result of a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of unlawful sex with a minor.[140] In 1978, after learning that the judge planned to reject his plea deal and impose a prison term instead of probation, he fled to Paris.[141] A number of other women have later accused Polanski of raping them when they were teenagers.[142] An Interpol red notice was issued for his arrest, and he rarely leaves France.[143]

Sexual abuse case[]

Mugshot of Polanski following his 1977 arrest

On 11 March 1977, three years after making Chinatown, Polanski was arrested at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for the sexual assault of 13-year-old Samantha Gailey. Gailey had modeled for Polanski during a Vogue photoshoot the previous day around the swimming pool at the Bel Air home of Jack Nicholson.[144][145] Polanski was indicted on six counts of criminal behavior, including rape.[136][146] At his arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to all charges. Many executives in Hollywood came to his defense.[147] Gailey's attorney arranged a plea bargain in which five of the six charges would be dismissed, and Polanski accepted.[148]

Polanski in 2007

As a result of the plea bargain, Polanski pleaded guilty to the charge of "unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor",[149][150] and was ordered to undergo 90 days of psychiatric evaluation at California Institution for Men at Chino.[151] Upon release from prison after 42 days, Polanski agreed to the plea bargain, his penalty to be time served (the time he had already served in jail) along with probation. However, he learned afterward that the judge, Laurence J. Rittenband, had told some friends that he was going to disregard the plea bargain and sentence Polanski to 50 years in prison:[150][152] "I'll see this man never gets out of jail," he told Polanski's friend, screenwriter Howard E. Koch.[153] Gailey's attorney confirmed the judge changed his mind after he met the judge in his chambers:

He was going to sentence Polanski, rather than to time served, to fifty years. What the judge did was outrageous. We had agreed to a plea bargain and the judge had approved it.[153][154]

Polanski was told by his attorney that "the judge could no longer be trusted" and that the judge's representations were "worthless".[155] Polanski decided not to appear at his sentencing. He told his friend, producer Dino De Laurentiis, "I've made up my mind. I'm getting out of here."[153] On 31 January 1978, the day before sentencing, Polanski left the country on a flight to London,[156][157] where he had a home. One day later, he left for France.[158][159] As a French citizen, he has been protected from extradition and has lived mostly in France since then.[160] Since he fled the United States before final sentencing, the charges are still pending.

In 1988, Gailey 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 his victim. In August 1996, Polanski still owed her $604,416; court filings confirm that the settlement was completed by 1997 via a confidential financial arrangement.[161] The victim, now married and going by the name Samantha Geimer, stated in a 2003 interview with Larry King that the police and media had been slow at the time of the assault to believe her account, which she attributed to the social climate of the era.[162] In 2008, she stated, "I don't wish for him to be held to further punishment or consequences."[161]

On 26 September 2009, Polanski was arrested while in Switzerland at the request of United States authorities.[163] The arrest brought renewed attention to the case and stirred controversy, particularly in the United States and Europe.[152] Polanski was defended by many prominent individuals, including Hollywood celebrities and European artists and politicians, who called for his release.[164] American public opinion was reported to run against him,[165][166] and polls in France and Poland showed that strong majorities favored his extradition to the United States.[167][168]

Polanski was jailed near Zürich for two months, then put under house arrest at his home in Gstaad while awaiting the results of his extradition appeals.[169] On 12 July 2010, the Swiss rejected the United States' request, declared Polanski a "free man" and released him from custody.[170] An Interpol red notice was issued in 1978 after he fled the United States, limiting his movements to France, Switzerland, and Poland.[171][143] His name is no longer found on Interpol's wanted list.

During a television interview on 10 March 2011, Geimer blamed the media, reporters, the court, and the judge for having caused "way more damage to me and my family than anything Roman Polanski has ever done", and opined that the judge was using her and Polanski for the media exposure.[172]

In January 2014, newly uncovered emails from 2008 by a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge, Larry P. Fidler, indicated that if Polanski returned to the United States for a hearing, the conduct of the judge who had originally presided over the case, Laurence A. Rittenband, might require that Polanski be freed. These emails were related to a 2008 documentary film by Marina Zenovich.[173][174] In late October 2014, Polanski was questioned by prosecutors in Kraków.[175]

On 30 October 2015, Polish judge Dariusz Mazur denied a request by the United States to extradite Polanski (a dual French-Polish citizen) for a full trial, claiming that it would be "obviously unlawful".[176] The Kraków prosecutor's office declined to challenge the court's ruling, agreeing that Polanski had served his punishment and did not need to face a U.S. court again.[177] Poland's national justice ministry took up the appeal, arguing that sexual abuse of minors should be prosecuted regardless of the suspect's accomplishments or the length of time since the suspected crime took place.[178] In a December 2016 decision, the Supreme Court of Poland dismissed the government's appeal, holding that the prosecutor general had failed to prove misconduct or flagrant legal error on the part of the lower court.[179]

Preparations for An Officer and a Spy had been stalled by the extradition request.[96][180]

On 3 May 2018, Polanski was removed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with the decision referencing the case.[181]

Polanski has blamed Harvey Weinstein for the renewed focus on his sexual abuse case in the 2000s and claimed that Weinstein tried to brand him a "child rapist" to stop him from winning an Oscar in 2003.[182]

In a 2018 interview with Quilette, Samantha Geimer (previously Gailey) gave her thoughts on the case:

"By the end of the trial, [presiding] Judge [Laurence J.] Rittenband seemed completely unhinged and certainly had no concern for me. He wanted me on the stand to aggravate media interest, and when he couldn't get that, he started to take it out on the defendant. The judicial process broke down entirely and there was no way to trust him or to know what he might do next. [Rittenband was later removed from the case.] I was relieved when Roman left and the court had no way to torment me anymore. What most people don't know is that I was also put on a plane and sent out of state to hinder Rittenband's plans to see me testify in the "trial of the century." Roman and I deserve a fair justice system as much and anyone else does. 41 years later, we are still denied it because each new DA and every Judge wants something for themselves."[183]

In her book, Geimer states: "As wrong as he was to do what he did, I know beyond a doubt that he didn't look at me as one of his victims. Not everyone will understand this, but I never thought he wanted to hurt me; he wanted me to enjoy it. He was arrogant and horny. But I feel certain he was not looking to take pleasure in my pain."[183]

In the interview, Geimer clarifies some of the notions that have been written in the media: "...why do others insist I must suffer, and that if I do not display the correct amount of agony and shame, that there must be something wrong with me? I don't have to be injured to prove what Roman did was wrong. His intent was certainly not to injure or frighten me. People don't like facts that don't fit with their preconceptions."[183]

Towards the end of the interview she concludes: "Forgiveness is a strength that helps the victim. It frees you from hatred and regret. If I do not have a right to forgive "for the public" then victims do not have a right to make victim impact statements to the court and ask for punishment. You can't have it both ways and only respect the views of those victims who say what you wish to hear. As I've already mentioned, people become angry when they discover they can't use me to suit their purpose. Roman returned to the US, he served his sentence, and he was treated unjustly by a corrupt judge. It's been 40 years. Enough."[183]

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.[184] 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",[155] while Gunson added, "I'm not surprised that Polanski left under those circumstances, ... it was going to be a real circus."[148][155]

Former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney 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.[185][186]

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 it was "deeply concerned" by the allegations, and that the allegations were "in many cases supported by considerable evidence", it also found that "Even 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, would not be an "appropriate result", and that he still had other legal options.[152][187]

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."[188] On this occasion, he collected the lifetime achievement award he was to have received at the time of his arrest two years earlier.[189]

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.[190]

Matan Uziel libel case[]

In December 2017, Polanski filed a 1.5 million suit in Herzliya Magistrates' Court against Israeli journalist and filmmaker Matan Uziel.[191] Polanski maintained that Uziel, through his website,, falsely reported that five women had come forward to accuse him of raping them. Polanski was suing for libel and defamation of character. Herzliya Magistrates' Court rejected Polanski's request to be exempt from appearing in court after filing the libel suit.[192] While Polanski gave various reasons for his inability to appear, the presiding judge, Gilad Hess, dismissed them one by one and ordered Polanski to pay Uziel ₪10,000 in costs.[193] In November 2018, it was published that Polanski decided to drop the lawsuit, and was ordered by the court to pay Uziel ₪30,000 (US$8,000) for court costs. The court accepted Uziel's request that the suit not be dropped, but rather that it be rejected, making Polanski unable to sue Uziel again over the same issue in the future.[194]

In late December 2019, in Polanski's interviews with Paris Match[195] and Gazeta Wyborcza,[196] the latter accused Matan Uziel of carefully orchestrating the attacks on his character and for playing a major role in designing an international campaign to besmirch his name and reputation in order to make his career fall from grace.[197]

Additional allegations, 2010 onwards[]

In 2010, British actress Charlotte Lewis said that Polanski had "forced himself" on her while she was auditioning for a role in Paris in 1983, when she was 16.[198] In 1999, Lewis had given a very different account of events in an interview with the UK's News of the World, which was unearthed by the French daily Libération. In that interview, Lewis asserted that she had a six-month tryst with Polanski when she was 17: "I knew that Roman had done something bad in the United States, but I wanted to be his mistress," Lewis said, according to Liberation. "I wanted him probably more than he wanted me." In addition, Lewis never mentioned any sexual abuse, and she said that their relationship ended when Polanski introduced her to Warren Beatty, and she claimed that they soon began an affair. Furthermore, she was cast in Polanski's 1986 film Pirates, appeared at the Cannes film festival on his arm years after the alleged incident, and in an interview the year of the film's release, Lewis stated, "I'd love to have had a romantic relationship with [Polanski], and a physical one. You can't help falling in love with him. But he didn't want me that way."[199]

In October 2017, a woman named Renate Langer interviewed by Swiss police said Polanski raped her in Gstaad when she was 15, in 1972.[200] That same month, Marianne Barnard accused Polanski of having assaulted her in 1975, when she was 10 years old.[198]

In November 2019, a French actress named Valentine Monnier said Polanski violently raped her at a ski chalet in Gstaad in 1975.[201]


Directed features
Year Title Distribution
1962 Knife in the Water Zespol Filmowy
1965 Repulsion Compton Films
1966 Cul-de-sac Compton-Cameo Films
1967 The Fearless Vampire Killers[a] Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
1968 Rosemary's Baby Paramount Pictures
1971 Macbeth Columbia Pictures
1972 What?
1974 Chinatown Paramount Pictures
1976 The Tenant
1979 Tess Columbia Pictures
1986 Pirates The Cannon Group, Inc.
1988 Frantic Warner Bros.
1992 Bitter Moon Fine Line Features
1994 Death and the Maiden
1999 The Ninth Gate BAC Films / Araba Films
2002 The Pianist Focus Features
2005 Oliver Twist Pathé
2010 The Ghost Writer StudioCanal UK
2011 Carnage Sony Pictures Classics
2013 Venus in Fur BAC Films
2017 Based on a True Story
2019 An Officer and a Spy Gaumont / 01 Distribution

Awards and nominations[]

Awards and nominations received by Polanski's films
Year Work Academy Awards BAFTA Awards Golden Globe Awards
Nominations Wins Nominations Wins Nominations Wins
1962 Knife in the Water 1 1
1965 Repulsion 1
1966 Cul-de-sac 1
1968 Rosemary's Baby 2 1 1 4 1
1971 Macbeth 2
1974 Chinatown 11 1 11 3 7 4
1979 Tess 6 3 3 1 4 2
1986 Pirates 1
2002 The Pianist 7 3 7 2 2
2011 Carnage 2
Total 28 8 27 6 19 7



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