Roman Polanski: 5 films by the great Polish director worth rediscovering

He has just turned ninety, of which more than sixty have passed since he began his career behind the camera: six decades of a career, a total of twenty-three feature films he has made, and a life marked by satisfaction, triumphs, personal tragedies. (the anti-Semitic horror in Nazi-occupied Poland, the murder of his wife Sharon Tate) and the controversy that marked his reputation (the sexual assault of Samantha Gamer and the resulting legal anguish). The figure was admired, as discussed, Roman Polanskiborn in Paris on August 18, 1933 to a Pole and a Russian mother, remains, above all, one of the giants of the seventh art: few directors have managed to update the codes of thriller, grotesque and horror in such a remarkable way, or they have been able to juggle the most diverse genres with their own unsettling ease. while maintaining faith in a very precise poetics.

Roman Polanski’s career among masterpieces and titles to be rediscovered

Roman Polanski

Portrait of Roman Polanski.

From its rapid rise to the European cinema panorama in the 1960s to its arrival in Hollywood in 1968 with such an epoch-making title as Rosemary’s babyRoman Polanski has shown an extraordinary aptitude when it comes to bringing out the ambiguities, dark sides, and self-destructive impulses of his characters; a propensity often associated with the ability to draw the contradictions and distortions of society and history. From Chinatown, a 1974 noir masterpiece and the absolute leader of its production, Tess, a 1979 dated transposition of a Thomas Hardy novel; from Pianista poignant memory of the war and the Holocaust that won him the Palme d’Or and an Oscar for Best Director in 2002, to more recent successes such as 2010’s Man in the Shadow and 2019’s An Officer and a Spy. Polanski’s career is full of memorabilia, some of which are now etched into our collective imagination.

Chinatown 1974

Chinatown: Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway

But along with undeniably famous classics like Chinatown and The Pianist, Filmography of Roman Polanski it also includes titles that are little known outside of the cinephile audience itself, or that, for various reasons, did not receive much attention when they were released. And in anticipation of his new work, the satirical comedy The Palace, which will be presented out of competition at the upcoming Venice Film Festival and will arrive in Italian cinemas on September 28, we invite you to rediscover five of the least memorable films made by the Polish director: but all capable of highlighting some of the hallmarks of his disturbing and timeless cinema.

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1. Knife in the water

Knife in the water

Knife in the water: a frame from the film

Anything but petty work: on the contrary, Knife in the water ranks among the most impressive debuts in the annals of cinema. Written by Polanski with his colleague Jerzy Skolimowski and filmed in 1962, the film already offers some of the key elements of Polanski’s work, from the sense of subtle menace that pervades the story to erotic attraction as the engine of growing tension between the characters. two men and a woman trapped in a confined space of a boat while traveling on a lake. Presented at the 1962 Venice Film Festival and garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, Knife in the Water did not draw immediate attention to the director’s future successes, but nonetheless established itself as one of the most representative chapters of his career.

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2. Macbeth

Macbeth Polanski

Macbeth: a painting by John Finch

Three years after the phenomenal response to Rosemary’s Baby and the Beverly Hills massacre that killed his wife Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski returned to the set in 1971 with an adaptation, edited with academic Kenneth Tynan, of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies. , Macbeth, previously brought to cinema by directors of the caliber of Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa. Polanski decides to entrust the two leading roles, the ambitious Scottish nobleman and the ruthless Lady Macbeth, to two very young and fledgling translators, John Finch and Francesca Annis (engaged after the rejections of two stars such as Albert Finney and Glenda Jackson). , and emphasize the rough realism of the production, emphasizing the bloody tones. Consequently, its transposition cannot make too much of an impression on the public: Macbeth will in fact turn out to be a severe (and ignoble) commercial fiasco.

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3. Bitter Moon

Bitter Moon

Bitter Moon: Hugh Grant and Emmanuelle Seigner

Resurrecting his career in 1988 with the thriller Frantic, also in the wake of Harrison Ford’s popularity and also in France, Roman Polanski devoted himself to a much more complex and risky project: the film adaptation of Pascal Bruckner’s novel, centered on the strange manage between American writer Oscar Benton (Peter Coyote) and his provocative wife Mimi Bouvier (Emmanuelle Seigner). Sadomasochism, erotic fantasies taking shape, sex as an instrument of power and oppression: in Bitter Moon, Polanski dives into the grungy narrative material without hesitation, illustrating the couple’s relationship between the protagonists as a brutal game between victim and perpetrator, which will also involve two young English tourists, Nigel and Fiona Dobson (Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas). Released in Europe in 1992, Bitter Moon would have to wait a year and a half before being released in the United States, where its violently transgressive nature would prevent it from attracting a large audience.

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4. Death and the Maiden

Death and the Virgin

Death and the Maiden: Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley

And in its own way, Roman Polanski’s late film is also a game between victim and perpetrator, although here the sentimental-erotic dimension gives way to a political one: it is about Death and the Virgin, a 1994 adaptation of Arel Dorfman’s 1990 play of the same name, presented on Broadway two years later with Glenn Close, Richard Dreyfuss and Gene Hackman. In the film version, Polanski instead casts Sigourney Weaver as Paulina Escobar, a former prisoner during a dictatorial regime in an unspecified Latin American country, and Ben Kingsley as Roberto Miranda, a doctor whom Paulina believes she recognizes. their captors. The dimension of the Kammerspiel, the confrontation/clash between the three characters and the shifting balance of power that has always been part of Polanski’s cinema finds another exemplary and tense performance in Death and the Maiden.

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5. What I don’t know about her

Based on a true story

What I don’t know about her: Emmanuelle Seigner and Eva Green

Between Venus in furs 2013 and Officer and spy 2019, which thrilled European critics and won numerous awards (including two Cesars for Best Director and a Silver Lion in Venice in 2019), a much less acclaimed film is inserted, the result of a collaboration between Roman Polanski and co-writer. Olivier Assayas from the novel by Delphine de Vigan: What I don’t know about her, presented out of competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Emmanuelle Seigner, the director’s wife and frequent co-star, gives her face to protagonist Delphine Darrier, a writer in writer’s block who lets herself be lured into a trap by a seductive admirer. played by Eva Green; but inexorably the relationship between the two women leads to an uncertain atmosphere of danger. The metanarrative element is combined with Hitchcockian ideas in the film, which, although not at the peak of the director’s filmography, is a symbolic essay on Polanski’s cinema, his obsessions and his sometimes perverse charm.

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