Raymond Roman Thierry Polánski (né Liebling; 18 August 1933) is a Polish and French film director, producer, screenwriter, and actor. During his career Polanski has received five Oscar nominations, winning the Best Director in 2003 for The Pianist. He has also received two Golden Globe Awards, two BAFTAs, a Palme d'Or of the 2002 Cannes Film Festival in France, as well as multiple Césars.
His Polish–Jewish parents moved the family from his birthplace in Paris back to Kraków in 1937. Two years later, the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany started World War II, and the family found themselves trapped in the Kraków Ghetto. After his mother and father were taken in raids, Polanski spent his formative years in foster homes under an adopted identity and survived the Holocaust. Polanski's first feature-length film, Knife in the Water (1962), was made in Poland and was nominated for the United States Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In the United Kingdom he directed three films, Repulsion (1965), Cul-de-sac (1966), and The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). In 1968, he moved to the United States and cemented his status by directing the horror film Rosemary's Baby (1968).
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. His efforts to blend into a Catholic household failed miserably at least once, when the parish priest visiting the family posed questions to him one-on-one about the catechism, and ultimately said, "You aren't one of us". The punishment for helping a Jew in German-occupied Poland was death.
By the time the war ended in 1945, a fifth of the Polish population had been killed, with the vast majority of the victims being civilians. Of those deaths, 3 million were Polish Jews, which accounted for 90% of the country's Jewish population. According to Sandford, Polanski would use the memory of his mother, her dress and makeup style, as a physical model for Faye Dunaway's character in his film Chinatown (1974).
After the war, he 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:
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). Rower is a semi-autobiographical feature film, believed to be lost, which also starred Polanski. It refers to his real-life violent altercation with a notorious Kraków felon, Janusz Dziuba, who arranged to sell Polanski a bicycle, but instead beat him badly and stole his money. In real life, the offender was arrested while fleeing after fracturing Polanski's skull, and executed for three murders, out of eight prior such assaults which he had committed. 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.
In 1959, Polanski married actress Barbara Kwiatkowska-Lass. She starred in his short film When Angels Fall. The couple divorced in 1961.
Polanski left then-communist Poland and moved to France, where he had already made two notable short films in 1961: The Fat and the Lean and Mammals. While in France, Polanski contributed one segment ("La rivière de diamants") to the French-produced omnibus film, Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (English title: The Beautiful Swindlers) in 1964. (He has since had the segment removed from all releases of the film.) However, Polanski found that in the early 1960s, the French film industry was xenophobic and generally unwilling to support a rising filmmaker of foreign origin.
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 will be released theatrically in November 2022.
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.
Polanski met Sharon Tate while making the film; she played the role of the local innkeeper's daughter. They were married in London on 20 January 1968. Shortly after they married, Polanski, with Tate at his side during a documentary film, described the demands of young movie viewers who he said always wanted to see something "new" and "different".
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.
Polanski's life turned in 1969 when his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, and four friends were murdered by members of the Manson Family. He made Macbeth (1971) in England and Chinatown (1974) back in Hollywood. In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. As a result of a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of unlawful sex with a minor. In 1978, upon learning that the judge planned to reject his plea deal and impose a prison term instead of probation, he fled to Paris. As a result, Polanski is a fugitive from the U.S. criminal justice system. In addition to his conviction, multiple other women have accused Polanski of sexually assaulting them as children. After fleeing to Europe, Polanski continued directing. His other critically acclaimed films include Tess (1979), The Ghost Writer (2010), Venus in Fur (2013), and An Officer and a Spy (2019).
In February 1969 Polanski and Tate began renting a Los Angeles home. In August, while Polanski was in Europe working on a film, Tate remained home, eight-and-a-half months pregnant. The Manson Family cult broke into the home late in the evening of August 8 and proceeded to murder Tate and four others. Tate's unborn child was posthumously named Paul Richard Polanski. Charles Manson, along with members of the cult, was arrested in late 1969, eventually tried, and found guilty in 1971 of first-degree murder.
On 9 August 1969, while Polanski was working in London, his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and four other people were murdered at the Polanskis' residence in Los Angeles by cult leader Charles Manson's followers.
In October 2017, German actress Renate Langer told Swiss police that Polanski raped her in Gstaad when she was 15, in 1972. The same month, Californian artist Marianne Barnard accused Polanski of having sexually assaulted her in 1975, when she was 10 years old.
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.
In November 2019, French actress Valentine Monnier said Polanski violently raped her at a ski chalet in Gstaad in 1975.
In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. As a result of a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of unlawful sex with a minor. In 1978, after learning that the judge planned to reject his plea deal and impose a prison term instead of probation, he fled to Paris. A number of other women have later accused Polanski of raping them when they were teenagers. An Interpol red notice was issued for his arrest, and he rarely leaves France.
On 11 March 1977, three years after making Chinatown, Polanski was arrested at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for the sexual assault of 13-year-old Samantha Gailey. Gailey had modeled for Polanski during a Vogue photoshoot the previous day around the swimming pool at the Bel Air home of Jack Nicholson. Polanski was indicted on six counts of criminal behavior, including rape. At his arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to all charges. Many executives in Hollywood came to his defense. Gailey's attorney arranged a plea bargain in which five of the six charges would be dismissed, and Polanski accepted.
In 1978, Polanski became a fugitive from American justice and could no longer work in countries where he might face arrest or extradition.
Polanski was jailed near Zürich for two months, then put under house arrest at his home in Gstaad while awaiting the results of his extradition appeals. On 12 July 2010, the Swiss rejected the United States' request, declared Polanski a "free man" and released him from custody. An Interpol red notice was issued in 1978 after he fled the United States, limiting his movements to France, Switzerland, and Poland. His name is no longer found on Interpol's wanted list.
Polanski was told by his attorney that "the judge could no longer be trusted" and that the judge's representations were "worthless". Polanski decided not to appear at his sentencing. He told his friend, producer Dino De Laurentiis, "I've made up my mind. I'm getting out of here." On 31 January 1978, the day before sentencing, Polanski left the country on a flight to London, where he had a home. One day later, he left for France. As a French citizen, he has been protected from extradition and has lived mostly in France since then. Since he fled the United States before final sentencing, the charges are still pending.
In 1981, Polanski directed and co-starred (as Mozart) in a stage production of Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus, first in Warsaw, then in Paris. The play was again directed by Polanski, in Milan, in 1999.
In 2010, British actress Charlotte Lewis said that Polanski had "forced himself" on her while she was auditioning for a role in Paris in 1983, when she was 16 and he was 50. In 1999, Lewis had given a very different account of events in an interview with the UK's News of the World, which was unearthed by the French daily Libération. In that interview, Lewis asserted that she had a six-month tryst with Polanski when she was 17: "I knew that Roman had done something bad in the United States, but I wanted to be his mistress," Lewis said, according to Liberation. "I wanted him probably more than he wanted me." Lewis never mentioned any sexual abuse, and she said that their relationship ended when Polanski introduced her to Warren Beatty, and she claimed that they soon began an affair. She was cast in Polanski's 1986 film Pirates, appeared at the Cannes film festival on his arm years after the alleged incident, and in an interview the year of the film's release, Lewis stated, "I'd love to have had a romantic relationship with [Polanski], and a physical one. You can't help falling in love with him. But he didn't want me that way."
In 1988, Gailey sued Polanski. Among other things, the suit alleged sexual assault, false imprisonment, seduction of a minor, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In 1993, Polanski agreed to settle with his victim. In August 1996, Polanski still owed her $604,416; court filings confirm that the settlement was completed by 1997 via a confidential financial arrangement. The victim, now married and going by the name Samantha Geimer, stated in a 2003 interview with Larry King that the police and media had been slow at the time of the assault to believe her account, which she attributed to the social climate of the era. In 2008, she stated, "I don't wish for him to be held to further punishment or consequences."
In 1989, Polanski married actress Emmanuelle Seigner. They have two children, daughter Morgane and son Elvis. Polanski and his children speak Polish at home.
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.
In 1992 Polanski followed with the dark psycho-sexual film Bitter Moon.
In 1994 Polanski directed a film of the acclaimed play Death and the Maiden.
In 1997, Polanski directed a stage version of his 1967 film The Fearless Vampire Killers, which debuted in Vienna followed by successful runs in Stuttgart, Hamburg, Berlin, and Budapest.
On 11 March 1998, Polanski was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
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.
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 has blamed Harvey Weinstein for the renewed focus on his sexual abuse case in the 2000s and claimed that Weinstein tried to brand him a "child rapist" to stop him from winning an Oscar in 2003.
In 2004, Polanski sued Vanity Fair magazine in London for libel. A 2002 article in the magazine claimed that Polanski promised he would "make another Sharon Tate out of you" in an attempt to seduce a Scandinavian model while he was travelling to Tate's funeral. He received supporting testimony from Mia Farrow, and Vanity Fair "was unable to prove that the incident occurred". Polanski was awarded £50,000 in damages plus some of his legal costs.
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.
In 2008, the documentary film by Marina Zenovich, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, was released in Europe and the United States where it won numerous awards. The film focuses on the judge in the case and the possible reasons why he changed his mind. It includes interviews with people involved in the case, including the victim, Geimer, and the prosecutor, Roger Gunson. Geimer said that the judge "didn't care what happened" to her or Polanski, but "was orchestrating some little show", while Gunson added, "I'm not surprised that Polanski left under those circumstances, ... it was going to be a real circus."
In 2009, Harvey Weinstein organized a petition, demanding "the immediate release of Roman Polanski” after he was detained days earlier in Switzerland on a warrant for his 1977 underage sex case in the U.S., which he fled before sentencing. Several actors and filmmakers signed the petition. Among them, Emma Thompson and Natalie Portman have since apologized for signing the petition, Thompson having her name removed in 2009 and Portman apologizing for it in 2017. Both had been asked to sign the petition by Mike Nichols.
On 26 September 2009, Polanski was arrested while in Switzerland at the request of United States authorities. The arrest brought renewed attention to the case and stirred controversy, particularly in the United States and Europe. Polanski was defended by many prominent individuals, including Hollywood celebrities and European artists and politicians, who called for his release. American public opinion was reported to run against him, and polls in France and Poland showed that strong majorities favored his extradition to the United States.
In December 2009, a California appellate court discussed the film's allegations as it denied Polanski's request to have the case dismissed. While saying it was "deeply concerned" by the allegations, and that the allegations were "in many cases supported by considerable evidence", it also found that "Even in light of our fundamental concern about the misconduct ... flight was not Polanski's only option. It was not even his best option." It said dismissal of the case, which would erase Polanski's guilty plea, would not be an "appropriate result", and that he still had other legal options.
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.
During a television interview on 10 March 2011, Geimer blamed the media, reporters, the court, and the judge for having caused "way more damage to me and my family than anything Roman Polanski has ever done", and opined that the judge was using her and Polanski for the media exposure.
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.
In September 2011, the documentary film Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir had its world premiere in Zürich, Switzerland. During an interview in the film, he offers his apology to Geimer: "She is a double victim: My victim, and a victim of the press." On this occasion, he collected the lifetime achievement award he was to have received at the time of his arrest two years earlier.
Polanski's French-language adaptation of the award-winning play Venus in Fur, stars his wife Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric. Polanski worked with the play's author, David Ives, on the screenplay. The film was shot from December 2012 to February 2013 in French and is Polanski's first non-English-language feature film in forty years. The film premiered in competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival on 25 May 2013.
Although set in Paris, the film was first scheduled to shoot in Warsaw in 2014, for economic reasons. However, production was postponed after Polanski moved to Poland for filming and the U.S. Government filed extradition papers. The Polish government eventually rejected them, by which time new French film tax credits had been introduced, allowing the film to shoot on location in Paris. 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. In a 2017 interview Polanski discussed the difficulty of the project:
In January 2014, newly uncovered emails from 2008 by a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge, Larry P. Fidler, indicated that if Polanski returned to the United States for a hearing, the conduct of the judge who had originally presided over the case, Laurence A. Rittenband, might require that Polanski be freed. These emails were related to a 2008 documentary film by Marina Zenovich. In late October 2014, Polanski was questioned by prosecutors in Kraków.
On 30 October 2015, Polish judge Dariusz Mazur denied a request by the United States to extradite Polanski (a dual French-Polish citizen) for a full trial, claiming that it would be "obviously unlawful". The Kraków prosecutor's office declined to challenge the court's ruling, agreeing that Polanski had served his punishment and did not need to face a U.S. court again. Poland's national justice ministry took up the appeal, arguing that sexual abuse of minors should be prosecuted regardless of the suspect's accomplishments or the length of time since the suspected crime took place. In a December 2016 decision, the Supreme Court of Poland dismissed the government's appeal, holding that the prosecutor general had failed to prove misconduct or flagrant legal error on the part of the lower court.
Polanski's Based on a True Story is an adaptation of the French novel by bestselling author Delphine de Vignan. The film follows a writer (Emmanuelle Seigner) struggling to complete a new novel, while followed by an obsessed fan (Eva Green). It started production in November 2016 from a script adapted by Polanski and Olivier Assayas. It premiered out of competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival on 27 May 2017 and opened in France on 1 November 2017.
In December 2017, Polanski filed a ₪1.5 million suit in Herzliya Magistrates' Court against Israeli journalist and filmmaker Matan Uziel. Polanski maintained that Uziel, through his website, www.imetpolanski.com, falsely reported that five women had come forward to accuse him of raping them. Polanski was suing for libel and defamation of character. Herzliya Magistrates' Court rejected Polanski's request to be exempt from appearing in court after filing the libel suit. While Polanski gave various reasons for his inability to appear, the presiding judge, Gilad Hess, dismissed them one by one and ordered Polanski to pay Uziel ₪10,000 in costs. In November 2018, it was published that Polanski decided to drop the lawsuit, and was ordered by the court to pay Uziel ₪30,000 (US$8,000) for court costs. The court accepted Uziel's request that the suit not be dropped, but rather that it be rejected, making Polanski unable to sue Uziel again over the same issue in the future.
In May 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to expel Polanski from its membership. The same year, his wife Emmanuelle Seigner rejected the invitation to join the Academy, denouncing the "hypocrisy" of a group that expelled Polanski.
On 3 May 2018, Polanski was removed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with the decision referencing the case.
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 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. The film has received backlash due to the plot of the film relating to Polanski's sexual abuse case and further accusations of harassment and assault.
In late December 2019, in Polanski's interviews with Paris Match and Gazeta Wyborcza, the latter accused Matan Uziel of carefully orchestrating the attacks on his character and for playing a major role in designing an international campaign to besmirch his name and reputation in order to make his career fall from grace.
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. Polanski said that he will not submit himself to a "public lynching" over rape accusations he denies. Addressing the accusations of sexual assault leveled at him, he said, "Fantasies of unhealthy minds are now treated as proven facts." 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.
The Polański family moved back to the Polish city of Kraków 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, and the racist and anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws made the Polańskis targets of persecution, forcing them into the Kraków Ghetto, along with thousands of the city's Jews. Around the age of six, he 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, he would not be allowed to enter another classroom for the next six years. Polanski then 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. He remembers from age six, one of his first experiences of the terrors to follow: