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

(1933-08-18) 18 August 1933 (age 90)
Paris, France
  • Poland
  • France
  • National School of Film Television and Theater in Łódź,
  • Krakow Academy of Fine Arts
  • Film director
  • producer
  • screenwriter
  • actor
Years active 1953–present
Barbara Kwiatkowska-Lass
(m. 1959; div. 1962)
(m. 1968; died 1969)
Emmanuelle Seigner
(m. 1989)
Children 2, including Morgane

Raymond Roman Thierry Polański ( Liebling; 18 August 1933) is a French and Polish film director, producer, screenwriter, and actor. He is the recipient of numerous accolades, including an Academy Award, two British Academy Film Awards, ten César Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, as well as the Golden Bear and a Palme d'Or.

Early life

Polanski was born in Paris. He was the son of Bula (aka "Bella") Katz-Przedborska and Mojżesz (or Maurycy) Liebling (later Polański), a painter and manufacturer of sculptures, who after World War II was known as Ryszard Polański. Polanski's father was Jewish and originally from Poland; Polanski's mother, born in Russia, had been raised Catholic but was half Jewish.

The Polański family moved back to Kraków, Poland, in early 1937, and were living there when World War II began with the invasion of Poland. Kraków was soon occupied by the German forces, the Polańskis became targets of persecution. Around the age of six, Polanski 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, Polanski would not be allowed to enter another classroom for six years.

Polanski 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.

Polanski's father was transferred, along with thousands of other Jews, to Mauthausen, a group of 49 German concentration camps in Austria. His mother, who was four months pregnant at the time, was taken to Auschwitz and died in the gas chamber 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, saw 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 got within a few yards. His father saw him, but afraid his son might be spotted by the German soldiers, whispered (in Polish), "Get lost!"

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. Polanski attended church, learned to recite Catholic prayers by heart, and behaved outwardly as a Roman Catholic, although he was never baptized.

By the time the war ended in 1945, a fifth of the Polish population had been killed, the vast majority being civilians. Of those deaths, 3 million were Polish Jews, which accounted for 90% of the country's Jewish population.

After the war, Polanski was reunited with his father and moved back to Kraków. His father remarried on 21 December 1946 to Wanda Zajączkowska (whom 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!

Polanski stated that "you must live in a Communist country to really understand how bad it can be. Then you will appreciate capitalism." 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.

Film career

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.

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." 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.

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."

Roman Polanski gwiazda Lodz
Polanski's star on the Łódź walk of fame

Polanski attended the National Film School in Łódź, the third-largest city in Poland. 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). 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.

Polanski 1969
Polanski in 1969

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, 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.

In 1967, his next directorial success, The Fearless Vampire Killers (known by its original title, "Dance of the Vampires" in most countries outside the United States), came out. The film 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.

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 to see if a film could be made out of it. 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 just over three weeks. 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. Polanski's screenplay adaptation earned him a second Academy Award nomination.

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. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including those for actors Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Robert Towne won for Best Original Screenplay. It also had actor-director John Huston in a supporting role, 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.

Polanski dedicated 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. 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. In the film, Kinski starred 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.

Grazia 02
Roman Polanski in Milan, Italy, 1984

After a 7-year hiatus, Polanski directed '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, 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.

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

On 11 March 1998, Polanski was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

Roman Polanski.
Polanski at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival for The Pianist

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."

In May 2002, the film won the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) award at the Cannes Film Festival, 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. Polanski later received the Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2004.

Polanski and Spanish writer Diego Moldes, Madrid 2005

Next came 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. When it premiered at the 60th Berlinale in February 2010, Polanski won a Silver Bear for Best Director, and in February 2011, it won four César Awards, France's version of the Academy Awards. 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. 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. 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.

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." 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."

Roman Polanski Emmanuelle Seigner Césars 2011
Polanski and Emmanuelle Seigner at the César Awards in 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. 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." 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?'" 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."

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Roman Polanski, Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric promoting Venus in Fur at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013
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Polanski promoting Based on a True Story at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival

Polanski's 2019 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. It co-stars Louis Garrel as Dreyfus, Mathieu Amalric, Olivier Gourmet and Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner. It is being produced by Alain Goldman's Legende Films and distributed by Gaumont. Filming began on 26 November 2018 and was completed on 28 April 2019.

It was budgeted at 60m and was again set to start production in July 2016, however its production was postponed as Polanski waited on the availability of a star, whose name was not announced. It had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on 30 August 2019. It received a standing ovation and won the Grand Jury Prize. It was released in France on 13 November 2019, by Gaumont.

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. 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.

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.

Polanski's next film, The Palace, began filming in February 2022 in Gstaad, Switzerland. The film stars Mickey Rourke, Fanny Ardant, and Oliver Masucci, and is a black comedy about the guests at a Swiss luxury hotel on New Year's Eve 1999. Polanski co-wrote the screenplay with fellow Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, who also co-wrote Polanski's first feature, Knife in the Water, in 1962. RAI Cinema and Eliseo Entertainment produced the film. The film was set to be released theatrically in Italy by 01 Distribution on September 28, 2023.

Personal life

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski wedding in 1968
Roman Polanski with Sharon Tate in 1968

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

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

In February 1969 Polanski and Tate began renting the home at 10050 Cielo Drive in the Benedict Canyon region of Los Angeles. In August, while Polanski was in Europe working on a film, Tate, was murdered with four friends by members of the Manson Family.

Polanski has said that his absence that night is the greatest regret of his life. He wrote in his autobiography: "Sharon's death is the only watershed in my life that really matters", and commented that her death changed his personality from a "boundless, untroubled sea of expectations and optimism" to one of "ingrained pessimism ... eternal dissatisfaction with life".

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


Directed features
Year Title Distribution
1962 Knife in the Water Zespół Filmowy
1965 Repulsion Compton Films
1966 Cul-de-sac Compton-Cameo Films
1967 The Fearless Vampire Killers 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
2023 The Palace 01 Distribution

Awards and nominations

Year Title 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

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Roman Polanski para niños

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