Roman Polanski is a Polish film director, producer, writer and actor. Made films in Poland, Britain, France and the USA, he is considered one of the few truly international film-makers.
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 Kraków 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.
He took acting at Lodz Film School, appeared in Andrzej Wajda’s A Generation (1955). His early shorts such as Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958), The Fat and the Lean (1961) and Mammals (1962), showed his taste for black humour and interest in bizarre human relationships.
Polanski’s first feature-length film, Knife in the Water (1962), was made in Poland and was nominated for a United States Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. He has since received five more Oscar nominations, along with two BAFTAs, four Césars, a Golden Globe Award and the Palme d’Or of the Cannes Film Festival in France. In the United Kingdom he directed three films, beginning with Repulsion (1965). In 1968, he moved to the United States and cemented his status by directing the horror film Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
A turning point in his life took place in 1969, when his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and four friends were brutally murdered by members of the Manson Family. Following her death, Polanski returned to Europe and eventually continued directing. He made Macbeth (1971) in England and back in Hollywood, Chinatown (1974), which was nominated for eleven Academy Awards.
In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He subsequently pleaded guilty to the charge of statutory rape. He was released from prison after serving 42 days, and as part of an apparent plea bargain, was to be put on probation. When he learned that the judge had changed his mind and planned to reject the plea bargain, he fled to Paris before sentencing.
In Europe, Polanski continued to make films, including Tess (1979), starring aspiring actress Nastassja Kinski. It won France’s César Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, and received three Oscars. He later produced and directed The Pianist (2002), starring Adrien Brody, in a World War II true story drama about a Jewish-Polish musician. The film won three Academy Awards including Best Director, along with numerous international awards. He also directed Oliver Twist (2005), a story which parallels his own life as a “young boy attempting to triumph over adversity”. He was awarded Best Director for The Ghost Writer (2010) at the 23rd European Film Awards