Roman Polański (born Raymond Thierry Liebling; August 18, 1933) is a famous Polish-French director, producer, actor, and convicted sex offender whose own life story is just as fascinating (and depressing) as his films.
Polański was born in Paris to Polish-Jewish parents. When he was four, the family returned to Kraków less than three years before the German invasion and occupation of Poland. His parents were subsequently deported into concentration camps, and his mother was killed in Auschwitz. He became a drifter after surviving in the Kraków Ghetto, traveling the country and staying with various families while also supporting himself by acting in local stage shows. After the war, he studied cinema in Łódź in the 1950s, and came back to Paris in the 1960s.
Polański gained acclaim for films like Knife in the Water and Repulsion, and began a successful Hollywood career. While going far outside his usual material directing and starring in the horror parody The Fearless Vampire Killers, he fell in love with his co-star Sharon Tate and they were married soon after in January 1968. Just over one year and a half later, on August 9, 1969, Tate was murdered by the death cult of Charles Manson just weeks away from the birth of their first child while Polański was making a film in Europe. Never a very sunny filmmaker to begin with, his movies understandably became even grimmer after this; he somehow managed to make a film of Macbeth even darker than Shakespeare's original.
Another turning point for Polański came in 1977, when he was arrested in Los Angeles and charged with drugging and sexually assaulting 13-year-old Samantha Geimer (née Gailey), whom he was photographing for the French edition of Vogue magazine, following a photo shoot at his friend Jack Nicholson's house. (Nicholson was away on a ski trip at the time, while his then-girlfriend Anjelica Huston, who also lived there, had been away from the house and returned to encounter Polański and Geimer as they were leaving together.) As part of a plea bargain, Polanski pleaded guilty and submitted to a stay at Chino State Prison, where after a 42-day period he was released. When Polański got wind that the judge in the case intended to overrule the plea bargain, return him to prison, and extend his sentence, he fled to France, where he has citizenship. He also sold off his house in the UK and never returned there.
Now unable to enter any country that had an extradition agreement with the US, Polański nonetheless continued making films, which — with select exceptions (The Pianist and Tess) — did not match the critical and financial success of his early career. Contrary to popular belief, Polański only ever made two films in Hollywood (Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown). He has made 12 films since his exile, and in 2002, he won his first Academy Award for Best Director for The Pianist; the statuette was accepted on his behalf and delivered to him by Harrison Ford, who'd earlier starred in his film Frantic. In 2005, the American arrest warrant on him became an international one, and four years later, he was re-arrested on it (while at a ceremony to accept another award) and had to finish post-production on The Ghost Writer from prison.
After Polański had spent several months under house arrest in Switzerland awaiting extradition to the US, the Swiss government announced in July 2010 that they were denying the extradition request, after having apparently encountered problems with the request and considering "national interests"; he is now free once again. In 2015, a second extradition request with the government of Poland was turned down as well; this decision was appealed until December 2016, when the Polish Supreme Court issued a verdict upholding the government's earlier decision and blocking any further attempts to extradite him. In the meantime, six different women have come forward to accuse the director of having assaulted them as teenagers. In 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to expel Polański from its membership.
Polański remarried to French actress Emmanuelle Seigner (who is 33 years younger than him and starred in several of his films) in 1989. They have two children, including actress Morgane Polanski.
- 1955: Pokolenie (A Generation) (actor only)
- 1957: Morderstwo (A Murderer)
- 1957: Uśmiech zębiczny (A Toothful Smile)
- 1957: Rozbijemy zabawę (Break Up The Dance)
- 1958: Dwaj ludzie z szafą (Two Men And A Wardrobe)
- 1959: Lampa (The Lamp)
- 1959: Gdy spadają anioły (When Angels Fall)
- 1961: Le Gros et le maigre (The Fat And The Lean)
- 1961: Ssaki (Mammals)
- 1962: Nóż w wodzie (Knife in the Water)
- 1964: Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (The Beautiful Swindlers)
- 1965: Repulsion (first English-language movie)
- 1966: Cul-de-sac
- 1967: The Fearless Vampire Killers
- 1968: Rosemary's Baby
- 1971: Macbeth
- 1973: What? (also known as Diary Of Forbidden Dreams)
- 1974: Chinatown
- 1976: The Tenant
- 1979: Tess (adapted from Tess of the D'Urbervilles)
- 1986: Pirates
- 1988: Frantic
- 1992: Bitter Moon
- 1994: A Pure Formality
- 1994: Death and the Maiden
- 1999: The Ninth Gate
- 2002: The Pianist
- 2005: Oliver Twist
- 2007: To Each His Own Cinema
- 2010: The Ghost Writer
- 2012: Carnage
- 2013: Venus In Fur
- 2017: Based on a True Story
- 2019: An Officer and a Spy
- TBA: The Palace
Roman Polanski's films contain examples of:
- Author Appeal: Polanski loved skiing, and Robert Evans managed to coax him into meeting him with the thought he could direct Downhill Racer. Instead, Evans tossed him some script named Chinatown, and the rest was history.
- Black Comedy: What?, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Carnage and even Rosemary's Baby are filled with jet black humor.
- Downer Ending: This tendency became even more pronounced after Sharon Tate's murder, with Chinatown as one of the most famous examples.
- Humans Are Bastards: The basic sense one gets from his movies.
- He has frontally tackled antisemitism twice, in The Pianist and An Officer and a Spy, the former about the genocide committed by the Nazis and the latter about ugly conspiracy theories in the French army in the late 19th century.
- Rape as Drama: This crops up in a number of films, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, Tess, Death and the Maiden.
- Signature Style: Strongly averted. While some of his movies do share similarities in terms of themes or shooting style (The Tenant and Rosemary's Baby being some of the prime examples), you'd probably be hard-pressed to find anything that the highly symbolic, slow-paced Knife in the Water, intense if accessible neo-noir Chinatown and the light-hearted adventure-filled Pirates would have that would point to Polanski being at the helm of all three.
Portrayals in fiction:
- The comic book XIII Mystery: Little Jones has a film director named Norman Boltanski who married a blonde actress named Sharon. It's about the only things close to reality, as the murder of that Sharon happens by said director's hand, strangling her to death after finding out she cheated on him. The passion murder is then disguised by shadowy government agents as a racist attack by the Black Panthers in an attempt to undermine them, with no equivalent or mention of the Manson Family anywhere.
- He is played by Polish actor Rafał Zawierucha in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood along with Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. To say that Polański's estate didn't approve of the film (via Emmanuelle Seigner voicing it out in the media) would be an understatement.
- In the video game Whiplash, one of the Genron employees is a man named Roman Polanski. We never learn much about him, but he's apparently one of the department chiefs, and Redmond seems to have a history with him. After he is defeated in a boss fight, Redmond quips "It's Chinatown!" While he doesn't look like the real Roman Polanski, the Chinatown reference seals it. Considering his role as a villain, this is likely a Take That!.