Known as much for his personal life as for his film career, director Roman Polanski's last scandal, for having illegal sex with a 13-year-old and his flight from justice, still polarizes the public. "I don't care," said one viewer after a private screening of a new documentary, Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, a conversation between his longtime friend, producer Andrew Braunsberg and the filmmaker while he was under house arrest in Gstaad, Switzerland, "he still had sex with a teen."
The documentary, consisting of two men talking, inspired by My Dinner with Andre, may still not sit well with viewers unnerved by the famed director's transgressions, but this memoir also goes into his stellar career and the more horrific aspects of his life, deftly melding his memories with archival footage. He was himself a child when he began his odyssey through World War II Krakow, his mother taken directly to a death camp, his father to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Clips from The Pianist, Oliver Twist, and Tess show how he incorporated key images from his life into the films. Interviewed in 2002 when The Pianist won prizes at Cannes and the Oscar, its star Adrien Brody said that many Holocaust details informed Polanski's direction, even to the way a person fell when shot.
Surviving the war, Polanski was an art student before he was accepted into the prestigious Lodz film school and acted in a film directed by Andrej Wadja. His first feature, Knife in the Water, angered the Communist regime but became a hit in Europe. Repulsion, with Catherine Deneuve, was his attempt at a horror film; he finds it a compromise to his real ambitions at filmmaking. Audiences may judge for themselves: Repulsion opens at Film Forum on Halloween for a two week run.
The horror genre does not compare to the real life murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by the Manson clan. At the time, the media pointed to Polanski, who was in London completing a film, for having something to do with the rampage. The scandal with Samantha Geimer would follow, with the media outing her despite attempts to keep her identity hidden. As she has said, the tabloids caused more harm than Polanski did. He has apologized to her and her mother. Now a family man, married to actress Emmanuelle Seigner for decades and the father of two, he is making a movie of David Ives' stage play, Venus in Fur, with his wife to star.
Supported by a close cadre of friends, family, and artistic collaborators, Roman Polanski by his own admission leads a good life. See this documentary as a record of a man whose unusual life and fine work reflect a key historic moment.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.