Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski Biography

(1933–)
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Director Roman Polanski is known for his films, the charges against him of statutory rape and for his wife's murder by followers of Charles Manson.

Who Is Roman Polanski?

Born Raimund Polanski on August 18, 1933, in Paris, director Roman Polanski moved to Hollywood in 1968, making his American film debut with the classic Rosemary's Baby. In 1969, Polanski's pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by members of Charles Manson's cult, and in 1977, Polanski was indicted on six criminal counts for having sexual relations with a minor.

Early Life in Europe

Raimund Polanski was born on August 18, 1933, in Paris, France. At the age of three, he moved with his family to his father's native city of Krakow, Poland. In 1941, his parents were imprisoned in various Nazi concentration camps, leading to his mother's death in Auschwitz. In order to escape deportation, Polanski lived with several different Polish families until he was reunited with his father in 1944.

Early Films

As a teenager, Polanski developed his acting skills in radio dramas and films. In 1954, he enrolled at the Polish National Film Academy in Lodz, where his body of work consisted of short films and documentaries. Upon his graduation, he appeared in a number of movies, including famed Polish director Andrzej Wajda's Lotna (1959), Innocent Sorcerers (1960) and Samson (1961).

'Knife in the Water,' 'Repulsion'

In 1962, he directed his first feature-length film, Knife in the Water. The international recognition that followed, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film, gave Polanski the chance to bring his movies to a more mainstream audience. The following year, he moved to London, where his next offering, the psychological thriller Repulsion (1965), was considered equally compelling by critics and audiences.

'Rosemary's Baby'

In 1968, Polanski moved to Hollywood, making his American film debut with the classic thriller Rosemary's Baby, which featured exceptional performances by Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes.

Wife Sharon Tate's Murder

Despite his burgeoning film career, Polanski endured a devastating tragedy in 1969 when his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by members of the Manson "Family." The extreme violence experienced by Polanski throughout his life was often reflected in his films, which tended to focus on the darker themes of alienation and evil — most notably, in the modern film noir Chinatown (1974), featuring John Huston, Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.

Sexual Abuse Case

In 1977, Polanski was indicted on six criminal counts for having sexual relations with a minor. The alleged act took place with a 13-year-old girl, in the home of Jack Nicholson. Both Nicholson and his longtime girlfriend, actress Anjelica Huston, testified against Polanski when the highly publicized case was brought to trial. Polanski pleaded guilty to one charge of unlawful sexual intercourse and underwent six weeks of psychiatric evaluation at a state prison in California. Although additional criminal charges were still pending, Polanski fled the United States after his discharge. While authorities were not actively seeking him out, he continued to face the possibility of prison if he returned to America.

Return to Filmmaking

'Tess'

Polanski traveled to Europe and eventually settled in Paris, where he directed the critically acclaimed Tess (1979) — an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Throughout the 1980s, he concentrated on stage acting, appearing in productions of Amadeus (1981) and Metamorphosis (1988).

'Death and the Maiden'

Polanski returned to film work with the intense thriller Frantic (1988), starring Harrison Ford and Betty Buckley, followed by the erotic drama Bitter Moon (1992), with Hugh Grant and Polanski's current wife Emmanuelle Seigner. Both projects failed to impress critics, but Polanski reestablished himself in 1994 with Death and the Maiden, a film adaptation of Ariel Dorfman's play. In 1999, Polanski directed the supernatural thriller The Ninth Gate, which starred Johnny Depp. The film's critical and commercial reception was tepid.

Oscar Win for 'The Pianist'

Polanski staged a comeback in 2002 with the critically acclaimed Holocaust drama The Pianist, which won the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Polanski won a surprise Best Director Oscar for the film, but was not allowed to attend the award ceremony due to his criminal indictment. The film's star, 29-year-old Adrien Brody, also earned an Oscar for his performance.

'Oliver Twist'

Following The Pianist, Polanski said he was anxious to make a film his children could enjoy. His next project was a film adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist (2005), starring Ben Kingsley. Despite a strong cast, the film performed poorly at the box office and received tepid reviews from critics.

'The Ghost Writer,' 'Venus in Fur'

The 2010 release of The Ghost Writer, a political thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor, marked the start of a prolific decade for the director. He followed with the dark comedy Carnage (2011); the erotic Venus in Fur (2013); and the psychological thriller Based on a True Story, the latter two starring Polanski's wife, Emmanuelle Seigner.

Legal Problems and Sexual Abuse Fallout

In 2009, Polanski was on his way to picking up a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich film festival when he was arrested by Swiss police on the longstanding warrant for his sexual activity with the 13-year-old girl in 1977. After a legal battle about his extradition, the Swiss ultimately denied the U.S. request. Polanski later received his award with the premiere of the documentary Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir at the festival in 2011. 

Another U.S. extradition request in 2015, this time in Poland, was also rejected. 

In May 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled the director due to their new ethical standards based on the #MeToo movement.

Although Polanski did not attend France's César Film Awards ceremony in February 2020, he became the story of the night when an actresses and two others walked out to protest his best director and best adapted screenplay wins for the film An Officer and a Spy.

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