Roman Polanski

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Roman Polański at Cannes with Adrien Brody, 2002
Roman Polański at Cannes with Adrien Brody, 2002

Roman Polański (born August 18, 1933 in Paris, France) is a celebrated Franco-Polish film director and actor; a celebrated Hollywood director of such films as Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974). He is also remembered for his tumultous personal life. His wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson Family in 1968. His flight from the country following a 1978 guilty plea to statutory rape of a 13 year old girl continues to make headlines, tarnishing his reputation as a film director. Unable to return to the United States, where he would face immediate arrest, he has continued to direct films in Europe, including Frantic (1988), the Academy Award-winning The Pianist (2002), and Oliver Twist (2005).



Early life

Raymond Roman Polański was born in Paris as Rajmund Liebling to Ryszard Polański (aka Ryszard Liebling), a Polish Jew, and Bula Polanska (née Katz), who was born in Russia to a Jewish father and Christian mother. In 1937 his family moved back to Poland, where they were eventually captured and imprisoned by the Nazis, along with millions of other Polish Jews. His mother died in a concentration camp, but Polański avoided incarceration there, escaped the Kraków Ghetto and spent the war wandering the countryside of Europe. These experiences later influenced the style in which he directed his 2002 Academy Award winning film The Pianist, which starred Adrien Brody, whose father is Jewish and whose mother is a Hungarian Catholic.

He was educated at the film school in Łódź, Poland, from which he graduated in 1959. Polański speaks five languages: Polish, Russian, English, French and Italian.

Polański with his future wife Sharon Tate in The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
Polański with his future wife Sharon Tate in The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

Several short films made during the study gained considerable recognition. His first major film Knife in the Water (1962) was the first significant Polish film after the war that was not associated with the war theme. It was Polański's first nomination for the Oscar.

Polański then made films in Britain; Repulsion (1965), a disturbing tale of madness and alienation; Cul-de-Sac (1966) is similar in tone to the plays of Samuel Beckett, telling the story of a couple living on a remote island (Donald Pleasance and Françoise Dorleac) who are visited by two gangsters (Lionel Stander and Jack MacGowran).

Polański and Tate photographed in 1968.
Polański and Tate photographed in 1968.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) is the American title for Dance of the Vampires, an unusual combination of comedy and horror. Polański's visuals give the film the feeling of a fairy tale, and at the same time he continues to explore the darker side of human relationships. The director was not happy with the American version of the film, which was re-cut in addition to having its title changed.

Relationship with Sharon Tate

Polański met rising star Sharon Tate while filming The Fearless Vampire Killers and during their time together doing the film they began dating. In 1968 Polański went to Hollywood, where his reputation was enhanced by the success of the sophisticated psychological thriller Rosemary's Baby (1968), based on Ira Levin's book of the same name, about a woman (Mia Farrow) who discovers she is pregnant with Satan's baby. On January 25, 1968, he married Tate in London, England.

On August 9, 1969, Tate, who was eight months pregnant, and four others (Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent) were brutally murdered by members of Charles Manson's "Family", who entered the Polański home on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills with the intention that they would "kill everyone there". Distraught and heartbroken, Polański returned to Europe shortly after the killers were arrested.

Also in 1969, Polański lost friend and collaborator Krzysztof Komeda (19311969). Komeda had been a popular jazz artist in Poland when the director first approached him to score a short film. He went on to score almost all of Polański's feature films until a head injury resulted in the composer's premature death. He is probably best known in the US for the haunting soundtrack to the movie Rosemary's Baby, but Komeda is also considered one of the most important figures of the Polish jazz scene of the 1950s and 1960s.

The seventies

Polański's next feature was a film version of Macbeth (1971), which was both praised for its intelligence and criticized for its explicit violence. This was followed by What? (1972), a surreal comedy about a young woman (Sydne Rome) and her adventures in a remote villa inhabited by an assortment of eccentric, and sometimes scary, people.

The director's next commercial success was Chinatown (1974), based on a screenplay by Robert Towne. The film was also embraced by critics, in part for its skillful evocation of the film noir classics made by the Hollywood studios. Chinatown references the history of the real Los Angeles, but it also alludes to the imaginary Los Angeles of the movies.

It may be telling that Polański chose to play the lead in his next film, The Tenant (1976), the story of a Polish immigrant living in Paris. The Tenant is a chilling exploration of alienation and identity, asking disturbing questions about how we define ourselves.

Pled guilty to rape of 13 year old girl

The success of Chinatown had made Polański a highly visible figure in the Hollywood community and secured his reputation as a gifted filmmaker. However, he became embroiled in a scandal surrounding rape charges involving him and Samantha Gailey (now Samantha Geimer), the 13-year-old daughter of an actress.

Polański was initially charged with rape, suspicion of sodomy, child molestation and furnishing dangerous drugs to a minor; however, these charges were eventually reduced to statutory rape at the request of the victim's mother to avoid a trial. It was alleged the director drugged her with quaaludes and alcohol, and then proceeded to have sexual intercourse with her. The sister of the girl heard her reporting the fact of sexual intercourse to her friend over the phone. When Gailey's mother reported the incident to the police, Polański fled the United States but returned later to face the charges.

A fugitive from the United States

On February 1, 1978, after pleading guilty to the charges, Polański skipped bail and fled to France on learning that the judge was going to disregard the previously agreed upon plea bargain and that he (Polański) could be sentenced to as much as 50 years in prison. France has a policy not to extradite its own citizens, which is reflected in the extradition treaty between France and the United States. As a consequence, American requests of extradition could not be heeded. It was possible for the US government to request Polański's prosecution by the French authorities. (The Washington Post, February 3, 1978 [1]). However US authorities chose not to avail themselves of this possibility.

The United States could still request the arrest and extradition of Polański from other countries, should he visit them, mostly travelling between France and Poland. As a consequence, Polański has since avoided visits to countries that were likely to extradite him, such as the United Kingdom.

In a 2003 interview, Samantha Geimer said that "I'm sure if he could go back, he wouldn't do it again. He made a terrible mistake but he's paid for it." She is now in her second marriage, with three sons, living on Kauai, Hawaii.

Vanity Fair libel case

In 2004, Polański sued Vanity Fair magazine in London for libel. A 2002 article in the magazine written by A. E. Hotchner recounted a claim by Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's, that Polański had made sexual advances towards a young model as he was travelling to Sharon Tate's funeral, claiming that he could make her "the next Sharon Tate". Unusually, he was permitted to provide evidence over a video link, after expressing fears that he might be extradited were he to enter the United Kingdom.[2][3]. The trial started on July 18, 2005, and Polański made English legal history as the first claimant to give evidence by video link. During the trial, which included the testimonies of Mia Farrow and others, it was proved that the alleged scene at the famous New York restaurant Elaine's could not possibly have taken place on the date given, because Polański only dined at this restaurant three weeks later. Also, the Norwegian then-model disputed the accounts that he had claimed to be able to make her "the next Sharon Tate".

Polański was awarded £50,000 damages by the High Court in London. Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, responded "I find it amazing that a man who lives in France can sue a magazine that is published in America in a British courtroom" while Geimer commented "Surely a man like this hasn't got a reputation to tarnish?" [4]

With Crystal Globe
With Crystal Globe

Later career

He received another Academy Award nomination for Tess (1979). Pirates (1986), a lavish period piece, was a commercial and critical failure. This was followed by Frantic (1988), probably the most conventional of the thrillers the director has made, and it, too, failed to excite critics or the general public. Frantic featured actress and model Emmanuelle Seigner, whom the director married in 1989. They have two children: Morgane and Elvis.

In May 2002, Polański won the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) award at the Cannes Film Festival for The Pianist, which also later won the 2002 Academy Award for Directing. In 2004 he received the Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. He could not attend the Academy Awards in Hollywood, because he still faces sentencing of up to 50 years in prison if he ever returns to the U.S.

During the summer and autumn of 2004, Polański shot a new film adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. The shooting took place at the Barrandov Studios in Prague, Czech Republic. Ronald Harwood wrote the screenplay. Starring are Barney Clark (Oliver Twist), Jamie Foreman (Bill Sykes), Harry Eden (the Artful Dodger), Ben Kingsley (Fagin), Leanne Rowe (Nancy), Edward Hardwicke (Mr Brownlow). Besides the cast, the director gathered again some of his collaborators from his previous movies: Ronald Harwood (screenplay), Allan Starski (production designer), Pawel Edelman (director of photography), and Anna Sheppard (costume designer).


Most of Polański's works are often considered psychological thrillers. He has been called a genius of exploring the dark sides of human personality. His favourite theme that can be found in almost every movie he made is the relationship between the victim and the hangman (Death and The Maiden, Bitter Moon, Cul-de-Sac, Rosemary's Baby). The world of Polański's movies is cruel, grotesque and filled with brutal sex and dark humour. The main characters seem to be frail and weak, not able to fight whatever is surrounding them. Polański likes to shoot his films from the position of a voyeur. He has been critically praised as a director who brought intelligent and artistic values to commercial cinema (Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown). Death and the Maiden star Stuart Wilson said of Polański, "Roman is very deep water pretending shallow water."

Other facts

  • Polański has said that the greatest regret he has about his life was not being at his home on Cielo Drive when Sharon Tate and the others were murdered.
  • Dedicated the movie Tess to Sharon Tate. Tate put the book on his nightstand before leaving London and also left a note saying how it would make a wonderful movie.
  • Polański is currently married to French actress Emmanuelle Seigner and they have two children, a daughter Morgane and a son Elvis.


Film director



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