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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July, 2005, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Roman Polanski: Film's dark prince
Roman Polanski
Polanski lives in Paris with his actress wife Emmanuelle Seigner
Film director Roman Polanski has won his libel case against Vanity Fair magazine at the English High Court.

The convoluted logistics of the case - which saw Polanski give evidence via video-link from Paris - reflect the Oscar-winning director's turbulent past.

The director used the video link to avoid the risk of extradition to the US, where he is wanted on an outstanding child sex offence.

His life has been as full of incident and tragedy as one of his dark films.

Polanski and his father survived the Nazi atrocities committed in the Krakow ghetto during World War II, but his mother died in a concentration camp gas chamber.

The Paris-born director went on to study at the prestigious Polish State Film College in Lodz and first 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.

Charles Manson
Cult leader Manson was intent on starting a race war in the US

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 made his return to film with an oppressive and gloomy version of William Shakespeare's Macbeth in 1971.

But the pinnacle in his Hollywood career came with Chinatown in 1974.

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.

Unlawful sex

Chinatown won an Oscar for best original screenplay, and was nominated in 11 other categories in the 1974 Oscars.

Three years later, Polanski was charged with unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson's house.

Facing a possible jail sentence if convicted, Polanski chose to jump bail and flee to Europe.

From then on he was unable to return to the US for fear of arrest and imprisonment, and even avoided making films in the UK because of the danger of extradition.

But he went on to make an Oscar-nominated adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess, starring Nastassja Kinski.

Nastassja Kinski
Nastassja Kinski starred in Tess

And during his time in Europe, he has 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.

It did not take long for the harrowing film to start gaining acclaim.

Peer accolades

The Pianist, a story of a virtuoso's escape from a Warsaw ghetto, won the prestigious Palme D'Or award at Cannes in 2002, and for many critics heralded the return of Polanski.

The film, which starred Adrien Brody as Szpilman, emerged as a critical hit.

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, heralding a return to the fold for this controversial director.

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

It marked the end of a journey for a director who reportedly turned down a chance to direct Schindler's List because of the painful memories.

For Polanski, the great sadness was that he could not turn up to receive his award.


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