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Roman Polanski ( 1933 - )  Category ( Filmmakers ) [suggest a correction]

Roman PolanskiBorn in Paris, France, to Slavic expatriates, famed filmmaker Roman Polanski (named Rajmund Roman Liebling at birth)is the son of Bula Katz-Przedborska and Ryszard Liebling (aka Ryszard Polanski), who was a painter and plastics manufacturer. Though both parents were agnostic, his father was a Polish Jew and his mother, a native of Russia, was raised Catholic in her Jewish father's and a Roman Catholic mother's home. The family returned to Poland when Roman was four years old. Two years later, in 1939, Poland was invaded and occupied by Germany and the Soviet Union. The Polanski family was a target of Nazi persecution and forced into the Krakov Ghetto along with thousands of other Polish Jews. His mother was eventually gassed in the Auschwitz concentration camp. His father barely survived in another camp. Polanski himself escaped the ghetto with the help of a Polish Roman Catholic farmer. The boy hid by sleeping in a cow stall. Later, he was educated at the Polish film school in Lodz, Poland, where he graduated in 1959. He speaks six languages, including Polish, Russian, English, French, Spanish, and Italian.

While studying at Lodz, Polanski gained a good deal of recognition for his short films, the first of which was entitled, Knife in the Water. Polish cultural authorities did not approve of his work, but his first film was a major commercial success in the west and established an international reputation for Polanski at an early age. Polanski continued to build upon his fame over the next two decades. During the 1960s, he made three full-length films in England, based on original scripts he co-wrote with Gerard Brach. The first of these, Repulsion, was filmed in 1965 and was a success. Next came Cul-de-Sac in 1966, followed by The Fearless Vampire Killers in 1967. The latter was a light-hearted spoof of vampire movies and starred Polanski as well as his future wife, Sharon Tate. The two began dating during production of the film and married on January 25,1968, in London. In his autobiography, Polanski describes these years as the best of his life.

Shortly after their marriage, the couple came to the United States, where he established his reputation as a major commercial filmmaker with his first Hollywood film, Rosemary's Baby. This horror/thriller movie concerns a young married woman who becomes pregnant with the devil's baby. Film tragedy seemed to follow Polanski into his real life, when his wife, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with their son, was murdered by members of the Charles Manson "Family," who entered the Polanski's Benedict Canyon home (located in the Hollywood Hills) with directions to "kill everyone there." Neither Tate nor Polanski, or anyone else at the house the night of August 8, 1969 had a known connection to the killers, but the prior tenant of the house was known to Manson and his acolytes, and Manson apparently had a grudge against him, having to do with Manson's attempts to enter the music business. Regardless, the killers fulfilled their orders and killed everyone on the property. At the time, Polanski was at his house in London, where he was finishing up a film. Stunned and in shock, he returned to Los Angeles, where he was questioned by police and found to be innocent of any involvement in the murders. Polanski returned to Europe shortly after the Manson family was arrested weeks later. He later said that he gave away all his possessions as everything reminded him of Tate and it was too painful for him. He also has stated that the greatest regret of his life was that he was not in Los Angeles with his wife on the night of her murder.

Polanski continued on with his successful film career, making movies with diverse subjects as Macbeth (1971), Chinatown (1974), and The Tenant (1976). In 1977, Polanski, then aged 44, became involved in a scandal involving a 13-year-old girl, which ultimately led to Polanski's guilty plea to the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Though initially charged with various, more serious offenses, he established a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. Following the plea agreement, Polanski appeared to be cooperating with the courts, and he was permitted to travel abroad to complete a movie he had started filming earlier. He later returned to California, but after serving time in a prison for evaluation, he fled to London, where he maintained residency. A day later he traveled to France, where he held citizenship, and where the extradition laws were favorable to his case. He has never returned to England or to the United States, the latter of which still regards him as a fugitive from justice.

In 1979 he dedicated his film, Tess, to the memory of his late wife, Sharon Tate, who had, in the summer of 1969, suggested that the Thomas Hardy book would make a good film. Other films of his later career include Pirates (1986), Frantic (1987), and most notably, the academy award winning The Pianist (2004). He accepted his Oscar in absentia, since he would have been arrested if he traveled to the U.S. to accept in person.

Polanski's films are considered intelligent psychological suspense thrillers, notable for their deliberate pacing, mood, and faintly Gothic treatment of situations and characters. A recurring theme in his work is the relationship between victim and predator and the shifting dynamics of power between characters.

Image: Roman Polanski with Crystal Globe Award. Image provided by Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary.

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