The two earliest Polanski films I watched was back in the 1990’s; Frantic (1988) and Bitter Moon (1992); both pretty good, but neither great.
And the two most recent were, Carnage (2011) and Tess (1979), last year, both excellent.

Carnage - Behind the scenes
Roman Polanski, with Polish/Russian roots, was born in 1933, in Paris, France, to Polish parents. Few years after he was born, his family moved back to their native Poland. As a Jewish child, he witnessed firsthand the cruelties of the second world war. With the invasion of Poland, they were forced into a ghetto along with thousands of other Jews and from there sent to concentration camps. Polanski saw his father being dragged away to another camp. His mother was killed as soon as she was taken to Auschwitz. Roman Polanski, still a child, escaped, and he was secretly brought up by many Roman Catholic families that protected him. When the war came to an end in 1945, a fifth of the Polish population had been killed off by the Nazis.
After the war, Polanski was reunited with his father, who remarried.

Roman Polanski, had a keen eye for film ever since he was a little child, way before the war. Post WW-II, Polanski, started watching films on a regular basis either in school or at the local Cinema. When he grew up, he attended the National Film School in Łódź, Poland. He graduated in 1959.
Meanwhile he acted in films like Trzy Opowiesci (1953), Pokolenie (1954) and Zaczarowany Rower (1955), to name a few, and directed his very first short film Rower-Bicycle (1955), which unfortunately today is a lost gem.
After making a few other short films, he made his very first full length, 94 minute, feature film, Knife in the Water (1962). Which was nominated for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the Oscars the following year. And the rest is history.

Image features Leon Niemczyk and Zygmunt Malanowicz
Back in the 90’s when I watched, Frantic (1988) and Bitter Moon (1992), I really enjoyed them; though I realised none of them were like the greatest movies ever made or anywhere near that. Unlike many other great directors, I started liking Polanski pretty late. Mainly due to the fact I hadn’t seen some his best work yet, although I was aware of some of his greats, especially in the horror genre.

Bitter Moon (92')
Then about a decade ago, I finally got a chance to watch Rosemary’s Baby (1968). I hated that movie, but wait, I didn’t hate it because it was bad, I hated it because it was an excellent horror flick. A movie about a pregnant woman, who’s been psychologically traumatised by her husband and neighbours, and is lead to believe she’s about to give birth to the devils child, with a shocking twist at the end, was pretty disturbing in many a levels. I watched this and felt no fear what so ever while watching. The ending though a bit of a shock, also felt a bit predictable. Went to sleep. But the next few days (being a person who loves to analyse films) I started to feel sick, and wanted get the video tape back to the library as soon as possible. And I felt a sense of relief not to see it hanging around anymore. But it also made me realise what an excellent horror flick it was. I’ve seen quite a few silly visually horror films that are pretty laughable, but in this, the concept itself was sickening, that I realised what a great piece cinema this cult classic was.
What’s really sad though in the tragedy associated with the aftermath of the release of Rosemary’s Baby. The real life ritualistic murder of Polanski’s beautiful wife, actress Sharon Tate, when she was nine months pregnant, by the Charles Manson gang.

Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate on their Wedding day (20th January 1968)

Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate on their Wedding day (20th January 1968)

In July, 1969, Polanski was busy with a shoot, thus his heavily pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, left for United States alone. Before leaving, she had given Polanski, Thomas Hardy’s novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and had mentioned that it would make for a great film. This was the last time Polanski would see his wife alive. On 8th August, 1969, Sharon Tate, now in Los Angeles, had spoken to her husband, who was in London. She was worried about his delay in returning and confided with friends that she was afraid he wouldn’t make it in time for the delivery. That same night, she along with their friends, altogether five people, were murdered, a sixth person escaped. Sharon Tate was stabbed sixteen times, with rope tied to her neck. A sad tragedy. Later when Polanski made the movie Tess (1979), he dedicated it to his late wife, Sharon Tate.

Tess (1979)

Tess (1979)

Around the time I watched Rosemary’s Baby, I also watched Repulsion (1965), which was shown in a local Norwegian television channel (I was residing Oslo at the time, 2003-2004, that’s where I watched both Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion). Repulsion wasn’t as great as Rosemary’s Baby, but still was another masterpiece of near excellence, with French actress Catherine Deneuve playing the lead (see my post Being mesmerised by ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, from last month).

Around the same time, I watched Chinatown (1974), on the big screen, in Luton, United Kingdom. This neo-noir flick was running in the Cinema, for a film festival at that time. I thought Jack Nicholson was superb as the broken nosed nosey detective who tries to make sense of mysterious woman (played by Faye Dunaway). The scene where he keeps slapping her to tell the truth, and she keeps saying ‘She’s my daughter, my sister, my daughter, my sister’ is really touching, once we realise that she is in fact speaking the truth, and what a disgusting old man her father really is. Here she cries, that the young girl in question, is both her daughter and her sister and that she’s been trying to protect her from her father. In a reversal of fortune, we suddenly start to sympathise with the femme fatale of the movie. Another excellent venture, and the best neo-noir tribute to classic noir films of the 30’s & 40’s, that I’ve seen till date.

In April 2004, I went back to live in England (having previously lived there in 2002-2003, doing my M.A. in International Cinema), this time in Portsmouth, a sea port (where I resided for six months before moving to London). While in Portsmouth, I saw quite a few Polanski flicks. I saw The Pianist (2002) and The Ninth Gate (1999) on a cable network. The Pianist was a superb film, and I felt this was the best Polanski movie ever, that I’ve seen. Starring Adrien Brody (who won an Oscar for this movie), The Pianist is a true story about Jewish pianist, who survives the holocaust of World War II, with the help of a Nazi officer whose infatuated with the pianist’s musical skills, rather than the person himself. The Ninth Gate, starring Johnny Depp; a thriller about a ‘rare book’ dealer, who gets drawn into a conspiracy dealing with demon text, which happen to be the key to raising Satan; however was a pretty bad movie, with an abruptly silly ending.

Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water (1962)

Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962)

Meanwhile, whilst residing in Portsmouth (UK) itself, there was a Polanski festival shown on some cable network and I ended up catching some of his really good classics, like the Polish film, his first feature film, Knife in the Water (1962), and the British, Cul-de-Sac (1966), along with his French flick, The Tenant (1976) in which he played the lead role as well. Both Knife in Water and Cul-de-Sac were really good films.

Cul-De-Sac (66')

Knife in Water was an intriguing boat crime; where a married couple invite a young student to accompany them on to their yacht for a weekend trip; and Cul-de-Sac (1966) was a tragicomedy about a criminal and his partner who take refuge in a Beachfront Castle. It’s interesting to see a young Jacqueline Bisset, in a small role, in the her second film appearance. The Tenant, yet another film that explores the themes of social alienation and psychic and emotional breakdown, was the worst Polanski film I’ve seen till date. I like him as a director, and I liked his cameo appearances in Repulsion and Chinatown, but I wasn’t so crazy about his lead role in The Tenant, nor did I fancy the movie. Then in 2005, I watched Polanski’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famed novel, Oliver Twist (2005). This was the worst film adaptation of Dickens’ acclaimed piece of literature, out of all the cinematic and television adaptations of Oliver Twist, I’ve seen till date.

Jacqueline Bisset in Cul-De-Sac (1966)

Jacqueline Bisset in Cul-De-Sac (1966)

Post 2005, after going through a bit of a Polanski drought for few years, I watched The Ghost Writer (2010), a couple of years ago, when it was shown on ‘Star Movies’, the Indian division of this cable channel, thus an edited version of the film. But thanks to the Indian and Malaysian/Hong Kong cable channels provided by our cable operator, we get to watch some good films and programmes, even though it’s the censored versions of them. Although as a film buff, am dead against unnecessary censorship. With The Ghost Writer, a really good thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, Polanski’s bounced back, though it wasn’t amongst his best.

Last year I went to India (New Delhi) during Oscar season (February/March 2012); thus ended up watching some really good films on the big screen whilst there. And one of the greats I watched was Polanski’s Carnage (2011). An excellent film set within span of a few hours in one day, where four parents of two teenagers meet to discuss their children, who’ve got into a fight, resulting with one kid landing in a hospital bed. An excellent film with a great cast comprising of Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly, this film was shot in real time, without breaks. This brilliant Carnage of adult minds is among Polanski’s best work. (See my critique on Carnage in my list titled Oscar Winners … and then some 2012 on IMDB)

Though set in Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York, Carnage was made in Paris, where Polanski resides, due to his ban from United States.
In March 1977, Polanski was arrested for a number of offences, including statutory rape (sexual relationship with an underage girl/ a minor). Polanski pleaded not guilty; and all other charges were dropped, except for statutory rape; and underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. In 1978, he fled to France, once he learnt that he might face imprisonment and deportation. Since then Polanski has mostly lived in France, and hasn’t set foot in the United States till date.

In October last year, Tess (1979), based on a novel by Thomas Hardy, was shown at the Russian Centre here. Almost instantaneously I fell in love with this beautiful movie, and blogged about it back then (see my post titled ‘Tess’ from October 2012). Tess is definitely the best Roman Polanski film I’ve seen till date, thus reducing The Pianist to second place now.

Am yet to watch Roman Polanski’s greats such as The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971), Che? – Quoi? – What? (1972), Death and the Maiden (1994), Venus in Fur (2013) and D (which is yet to be released), to name a few.

Roman Polanski celebrated his 80th Birthday last month, on the 18th of August 2013. (See my list titled Roman Polanski (XIV Films) The Best to The Worst on IMDB which I made as tribute for/on his 80th Birthday)

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

KITW (62') The Pianist pic