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Roman Polanski: Film's dark prince

Roman Polanski. Photo: 2008
Roman Polanski's film successes have been dogged by controversy

BBC News profiles legendary film director Roman Polanski. Authorities in Switzerland have decided not to extradite him to the US to face sentencing for a case dating back to 1977.

The life of the Polish-French director has been as tortuous and full of incident and tragedy as one of his dark films.

His 2002 drama The Pianist, a story of a virtuoso's escape from a Warsaw ghetto during World War II, won the prestigious Palme D'Or award at Cannes and also the best director Oscar.

The Paris-born director had himself survived the Nazi atrocities committed in the Krakow ghetto, but lost his mother in a concentration camp gas chamber.

He went on to study at the prestigious Polish State Film College in Lodz and came to international prominence with his feature debut Knife in the Water in 1962.

A claustrophobic thriller set on a weekend yacht trip, the film angered communist officials but won the critics' prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Polanski moved to Hollywood and scored a major box office success with Rosemary's Baby.

Starring Mia Farrow as a woman who dreams she has been impregnated by the devil, the tense, uneasy 1968 film heavily influenced the horror genre with its psychological tone.

POLANSKI - SELECTED FILMS
Chinatown
Knife In The Water (1962)
Repulsion (1965)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Chinatown - pictured (1974)
Tess (1979)
The Pianist (2002)

Tragedy overwhelmed Polanski the following year when his heavily pregnant wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered, along with four others, by killers acting on the orders of radical cult leader Charles Manson.

Dubbed the crime that "killed" the spirit of the 1960s by some, the murders were part of Manson's deranged efforts to start a race war in America.

The traumatised Polanski left for Europe, and made his return to film with an oppressive and gloomy version of William Shakespeare's Macbeth in 1971.

He returned to Hollywood in 1974 to make Chinatown, considered by many the peak of his US film career.

Jack Nicholson played JJ Gittes, a detective in the Philip Marlowe mould, in a California-set thriller shot through with the darker aspects of predecessors like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.

Polanski gave himself a cameo as a hood who slashes Nicholson's nose.

The film was nominated in 11 other categories in the 1974 Oscars, taking home just one prize - for best original screenplay.

Jumps bail

But three years later, Polanski was plunged into controversy when he was charged with having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson's house in Los Angeles.

Maintaining the girl was sexually experienced and had consented, Polanski spent 42 days in prison undergoing psychiatric tests, but chose to jump bail and flee the US in 1978 - first to Britain and then immediately to France.

The filmmaker has lived there ever since, unable to return to the US for fear of arrest and imprisonment. He even avoided making films in the UK because of the danger of extradition.

His Oscar for The Pianist was collected by Harrison Ford.

Polanski's attempts to have the case dismissed failed in 2009, when a court in Los Angeles rejected his request to have a hearing heard outside the Los Angeles court system.

Mixed projects

In Europe, Polanski was also reported to have started a relationship with actress Nastassja Kinski when she was 15.

Adrien Brody
Adrien Brody played the lead in The Pianist

Kinski had appeared in his Oscar-nominated 1979 film Tess.

He later mixed arthouse projects like 1992's Bitter Moon featuring Hugh Grant and 1994's Death and the Maiden, with Hollywood-friendly films.

He made the Harrison Ford-vehicle Frantic in 1988, and in 1999 the supernatural thriller Ninth Gate, which featured Johnny Depp.

Polanski's decision to direct The Pianist caused much debate, as the story of musician Wladyslaw Szpilman paralleled Polanski's own wartime experiences.

But for many critics, the film - which starred best actor Oscar-winner Adrien Brody as Szpilman - heralded a long-overdue return to form.

In December 2002, it secured a Golden Globe nomination for best dramatic film.

It went on to win six Cesars and the Baftas for best film and best director.

In the ultimate showbiz accolade, the film won the best director Oscar for Polanski at the 2003 Academy Awards, despite being considered an outsider for the prize.



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