Roman Polanski is a Polish film director, producer, writer and actor. Having made films in Poland, Britain, France and the USA, he is considered one of the few truly international filmmakers. Roman Polanski was born in Paris in 1933.
His parents returned to Poland from France in 1936, three years before World War II began. On Germany’s invasion in 1939, as a family of mostly Jewish heritage, they were all sent to the Krakow ghetto. His parents were then captured and sent to two different concentration camps: His father to Mauthausen-Gusen in Austria, where he survived the war, and his mother to Auschwitz where she was murdered. Roman witnessed his father’s capture and then, at only 7, managed to escape the ghetto and survive the war, at first wandering through the Polish countryside and pretending to be a Roman-Catholic kid visiting his relatives. Although this saved his life, he was severely mistreated suffering nearly fatal beating which left him with a fractured skull.
Local people usually ignored the cinemas where German films were shown, but Polanski seemed little concerned by the propaganda and often went to the movies. As the war progressed, Poland became increasingly war-torn and he lived his life as a tramp, hiding in barns and forests, eating whatever he could steal or find. Still under 12 years old, he encountered some Nazi soldiers who forced him to hold targets while they shot at them. At the war’s end in 1945, he reunited with his father who sent him to a technical school, but young Polanski seemed to have already chosen another career. In the 1950s, he took up acting, appearing in Andrzej Wajda’s A Generation (1955) before studying at the Lodz Film School. His early shorts such as Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958), Le gros et le maigre (1961) and Mammals (1962), showed his taste for black humor and interest in bizarre human relationships. His feature debut, Knife in the Water (1962), was one of the first Polish post-war films not associated with the war theme. It was also the first movie from Poland to get an Oscar nomination for best foreign film. Though already a major Polish filmmaker, Polanski chose to leave the country and headed to France. While down-and-out in Paris, he befriended young scriptwriter, Gérard Brach, who eventually became his long-time collaborator. The next two films, Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-sac (1966), made in England and co-written by Brach, won respectively Silver and then Golden Bear awards at the Berlin International Film Festival. In 1968, Polanski went to Hollywood, where he made the psychological thriller, Rosemary’s Baby (1968). However, after the brutal murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson Family in 1969, the director decided to return to Europe. In 1974, he again made a US release – it was Chinatown (1974).
It seemed the beginning of a promising Hollywood career, but after his conviction for the sodomy of a 13-year old girl, Polanski fled from he USA to avoid prison. After Tess (1979), which was awarded several Oscars and Cesars, his works in 1980s and 1990s became intermittent and rarely approached the caliber of his earlier films. It wasn’t until The Pianist (2002) that Polanski came back to full form. For that movie, he won nearly all the most important film awards, including the Oscar for Best Director, Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, the BAFTA and Cesar Award.
He still likes to act in the films of other directors, sometimes with interesting results, as in A Pure Formality (1994).
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