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Roman Polanski in Two Men and a Wardrobe
1958 © Film Polski
ROMAN POLANSKI (b. 1933, Paris) is a Polish film director, screenwriter, film producer and actor. At the age of three, he moved with his family to Krakow, which was invaded by the Germans only three years later. Polanski's parents were deported to a concentration camp - his Mother never to return. At the age of seven, the boy was left to survive in the ghetto, and ultimately escaped it with the assistance of Catholic families. After the war, at the age of 16, Polanski almost miraculously survived an attack from a stranger who later turned out to be a Krakow's notorious serial killer.

His father enrolled him in a technical school, but he left in 1950 to attend film school, concurrently becoming an actor at Krakow's Stary Theater and making his onscreen acting debut in Andrzej Wajda's 1954 film, A Generation. That same year, Polanski became a student of directing at the Lodz Film School, where he made an award winning surreal fable, Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958).  Most of his student shorts were scored by Polish jazz legend, Krzysztof Komeda, and their collaboration spanned the following decades. In 1962 Polanski made his feature film debut Knife in the Water (co-written by Jerzy Skolimowski and Jakub Goldberg). The film was an international success, gathering the FIPRESCI Award in Venice and the first Polish Oscar nomination; however, to the authorities, particularly Communist Party Secretary Wladyslaw Gomulka, it represented rotten consumerism and fascination with overly sophisticated French New Wave. It was the only full-length feature the director made in Poland before he left the country.

In 1965 in the UK, Polanski filmed Repulsion with Katherine Denevue, which established him as a master of suspense and psychological drama. His French Cul-de-Sac (1966) continued to explore his characteristic motifs: mania and omnipresent fear; imprisonment and 3-character conflict. His Hollywood debut in 1968 was Rosemary's Baby, starring John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow - a superb combination of storytelling and style that redefined the genre of horror. After Rosemary's Baby's success, Polanski enjoyed a reputation as one of the most interesting contemporary film directors.

Soon however, in 1969, the brutal murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by the Manson Family cast a shadow on his life. His 1971 Macbeth, is a particularly dark, bloody and hopeless tale. In 1974, Polanski directed Chinatown (1974), based on Robert Towne's screenplay - one of the best scripts in the history of a filmmaking. The beautifully interpreted film noir aesthetic added to the brilliant plot, enacted by Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Houston, rewarded Polanski with an Oscar nomination and a British Academy Award. In 1976, he adapted Roland Topor's dark and obsession-driven The Tenant and played the title character.

The next year, in Hollywood, the director made further news: he was charged in connection with a sexual encounter involving a 13-year-old girl. Barred from working in Hollywood and fearing that the judge would not honor the agreement made with the prosecutor in exchange for his guilty plea, Polanski fled the U.S. and resettled in Paris. In 1979, he made Tess (based on Thomas Hardy's novel) with Nastassja Kinski - the most expensive film made in France at the time. It gained Polanski yet another Oscar nomination and a César award for Best Direction. Polanski's next film, Pirates (1986), was an adventure film and marks a turn toward exploration of different film genres: Frantic (1988), a thriller with Harrison Ford, and Bitter Moon (1992) a bold, erotic story. In 1994 his adaptation of Ariel Dorfman's play, Death and the Maiden, with Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver was a critically acclaimed, tight, almost claustrophobic chiller. Two years later, he returned to the horror genre in The Ninth Gate, starring his third wife Emmanuelle Seigner and Johnny Depp.

Polanski returned to Poland in 2001 to film his epic, The Pianist, based on the memoirs of Wladyslaw Szpilman, which had been considered for adaptations by many Polish filmmakers for decades after the war. The film premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, where it received the top prize, the Palme d'Or, and was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. It won three Oscars, including Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director, although the latter prize went unclaimed, as Polanski was still a fugitive from Los Angeles County and therefore unable to enter the US. In 2010, he made a political thriller The Ghost Writer, chosen by FIPRESCI as the best film of the year and awarded at the Berlin Film Festival for Best Directing.

SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY:

1962 Knife in the Water
1965 Repulsion
1966 Cul-de-Sac
1967 The Fearless Vampire Killers
1968 Rosemary's Baby
1971 The Tragedy of Macbeth
1973 What?
1974 Chinatown
1976 The Tenant
1979 Tess
1986 Pirates  
1988 Frantic
1992 Bitter Moon
1994 Death and the Maiden
1999 The Ninth Gate
2002 The Pianist
2005 Oliver Twist
2007 To Each His Own Cinema (segment Cinéma erotique)
2010 The Ghost Writer