Page last updated at 14:37 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Roman riot as Polanski hits Turin

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

A personal appearance by veteran director Roman Polanski was one of the main talking points at this year's Turin Film Festival.

Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski spent his early years in France before moving to Poland
The line of people outside the Massimo cinema extends right down the Via Verdi almost as far as the Universita degli Studi di Torino.

The afternoon, though sunny, is bitterly cold. Yet that has not deterred some expectant punters from waiting for the last two hours.

The queue is not for the latest James Bond adventure, though, or some up-and-coming rock band.

Instead it is for a 75-year-old film-maker whose distinguished body of work goes hand in hand with a life steeped in tragedy and scandal.

Diminutive of stature, Roman Polanski is nevertheless a cinematic titan who has given us some of the most memorable motion pictures of the last five decades.

All of them feature in a complete retrospective that is one of the highlights of this year's Turin Film Festival.

At the nearby Museo Nazionale del Cinema, the gantry that snakes around its spectacular five-storey exhibition hall is decorated with blown-up photographs from the director's own collection.

Viewed together, they offer fascinating insights into the making of such iconic masterworks as Repulsion, Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby.

A snap from the latter's set sees its star Mia Farrow visibly delighted by a chart breaking down her performance into separate components.


It is the man himself, though, who delights as he arrives to field questions posed by the festival's artistic director, Italian film-maker Nanni Moretti.

Offering his apologies for speaking in French, the Oscar-winning director of The Pianist revealed he deliberately sets himself challenges with each of his films.

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski
His wife Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson Family in 1969
"Telling stories is not enough," he explained. "I need something more difficult to achieve."

On more than one occasion, though, Polanski admitted he had been forced to concede defeat.

Recently, for example, he walked away from Pompeii, a $130m (84.7m) adaptation of the Robert Harris novel that was meant to shoot in Italy last summer.

"It would have been a nice movie," he sighed, blaming the uncertainty over a possible Hollywood actors' strike for its eventual cancellation.

The director also expressed disappointment that The Double, a proposed collaboration with John Travolta, never got off the ground.

It is not just unrealised projects that preoccupy him, though.

Apparently, he also has reservations about the completed ones as well.

Re-watching his 1971 adaptation on Macbeth recently, he decided the film would have been better had Martin Shaw - the actor cast as Banquo - had played the title role instead.

Of all his features, however, the one that gives him most pain is his costly 1986 flop Pirates.


"It was a nightmare from beginning to end," he shudders. "Every day something new would go wrong.

"I should have got a special award just for finishing it."

This was not the forum to broach the real nightmares in Polanski's life - the brutal murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate, or the death of his mother in a Nazi concentration camp.

Polanski (right) on the set of Oliver Twist
Polanski's most recent feature was his 2005 adaptation of Oliver Twist
Nor did Moretti mention the statutory rape conviction that prompted the director to flee the US in the late 1970s.

A sign of the retrospective's totality, however, is the inclusion of a BBC-funded documentary about this still-unresolved court case.

Introducing her film later in the festival, its American director Marina Zenovich points out how its title - Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired - sums up how he is regarded on the two sides of the Atlantic.

If the packed house at the Massimo is anything to go by, however, it is the movie-maker, not the headline-maker, that Turin's cineastes are here to celebrate.

Not that this prevents Polanski from criticising his hosts for their penchant for dubbing non-Italian films.

"Subtitles are a way to teach people other languages," he gently chides. "Once you are used to them, you don't have to concentrate.

"In France you can see films dubbed and subtitled. It's a pity you can't do that in Italy."

Even in his eighth decade, it seems, Polanski is never too far from controversy.

The 26th Turin Film Festival continues until 29 November.

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