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Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 12:20 GMT
Polanski joins French elite

Polanski wearing his Nino Cerruti-designed academy "uniform"

Fugitive film director Roman Polanski has become an establishment figure in France by becoming a member of the prestigious Academie des Beaux Arts.

The controversial 66-year-old maker of violent - and often criticised movies - including Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown - was received into the elite organisation in honour of his contribution to modern moviemaking.

Although born in Poland, Polanski is now a French citizen. He has lived in Paris since 1978 when he fled the US to avoid imprisonment after pleading guilty to charges of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

Unexpected honour

The formal acceptance ceremony into the country's respected academy was held at the Institut de France in Paris on Wednesday.

Among the guests were several of Polanski's celebrity friends, including celebrated French actresses Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardent, and British star Kristin Scott-Thomas.

Catherine Deneuve was among the celebrity guests
Making his acceptance speech, the director said: "How could I ever have dreamed that one day I would be welcomed in this prestigious assembly."

Polanski has taken the place at the academy made vacant by the death, three years ago, of French film director Marcel Carne.

To be eligible do so, he had to beat off competition from a host of other candidates to be elected by the 55-members of the academy - all aged between 71 and 98 - in March 1998.

Polanski said he was unlikely to attend the weekly meetings of the academy, whose task is to promote French culture, because of his workload, but he would when he could.

After his induction he said: "As far as I can remember, I always wanted to make movies."

But, he said that the honour made him think he was "approaching the final moment, considering the advanced age of my colleagues".

Tragic childhood

Born in Paris in 1933 to Polish-Jewish parents, Polanski and his family moved back to Poland in 1936.

He escaped the Krakow ghetto during World War II but his mother died in Auschwitz.

His first feature film Knife in the Water in 1962 was poorly received in Poland but was nonetheless awarded the Critics' Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Polanski has since directed many of the greatest names in cinema, in a career spanning 40 years.

Rosemary's Baby starred Mia Farrow as a young woman impregnated with the son of the devil by Satan worshippers. Jack Nicholson played the leading role in Polanski's stars in the stylish political thriller Chinatown.

His other films include the psychological horror movie Repulsion, with Catherine Deneuve, and Tess, starring Nastassja Kinski, which won Polanski a Golden Globe in 1980.

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14 Oct 99 |  Entertainment
France honours Bowie

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