Happy Birthday Roman Polanski!

August 6th, 2013 by Ben

Roman Polanski is a controversial director and person. Some of his films are known to have inspired really great directors such as the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson and David Fincher . Although celebrating his 80th birthday, he only has 20 full length fiction movies under his belt. Filmmakers today tend to create a movie every 2-3 years. In that sense, Roman belongs to a group of distinguished filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrik, who always strive to have a well-written, well made all around film, which in return, is always highly anticipated by critics and audience alike.
As we turn to his profile on Jinni, the majority of his films deal with mind and soul themes involving couple relations, and are usually atmospheric and bleak. It’s clear that his controversial life’s circumstances have taken a toll on his personality and work. Back in 69, his second wife, pregnant at the time, was brutally murdered, and several years later he was charged with statutory rape, having sex with a minor. But with titles like Knife in the Water and Rosemary’s Baby preceded the tragic events, the disturbing and twisted potential was there from the start…

Here are some of his great works:

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Clearly a horror milestone, and considered a cinematic masterpiece – “Rosemary’s Baby” is a story of a couple of newlyweds that move to a new apartment in an urban setting. Already upon scouting the apartment, several details about it strike them as odd. Shortly after moving in, Rosemary becomes pregnant, and the pregnancy does not go as planned. A stream of paranoia and hysteria overtakes Rosemary which creates a scary and suspenseful thriller that never stops shocking you until the very end.

Chinatown (1974)

This movie is also considered a masterpiece on it’s own regard and garnered unanimous critical acclaim. Renown for it’s noir style that was almost gone at the time the movie was made, it tells the story of Jake Gittes, a private detective who specializes in marital problems. When he’s hired by Evelyn Mulwray to spy on her husband, he’s plunged into a complex web of deception that involves murder whilst all being connected to the city’s poisoned water supply.

The Tenant (1976)

Notice a pattern here? Roman just makes GREAT movies! We march on with another essential piece of art. Roman actually plays the main character in this movie, showing pretty great acting skills. His name is Trelkovsky, and he moves into a Parisian apartment after the former tenant committed suicide. But similarly to Rosemary’s Baby, soon after moving in, it appears that the ghost of the former young woman starts taking over parts of Trelkovsky’s personality, engaging him in a psychological conflict.

Repulsion (1965)

Back to the days before Rosemary’s Baby’s breakthrough, we have “Repulsion”. The first English speaking movie of Polanski revolves around Carol – a manicurist that is left alone in her flat when her sister is going on vacation. While she’s alone, Carol slowly starts to lose her mind. One of the great things about old movies like this, is that they use impressive composition to describe the disturbing mental state of it’s character, and being in B&W directly correlates the visual aspect to German expressionism.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

Now that we’ve been through the majority of his horror and thriller movies it’s time to show the lighter side of Roman. For starters, this was the movie in which Roman met his wife Sharon Tate, so it’s no wonder this is an actual comedy coming out from him. But don’t worry, he didn’t completely give up on the dark side, so this one is a parody on vampire films. An eccentric professor who studies bats, travels to Transylvania in search of a vampire plague that takes over a small village. Filled with many slapstick and silly humor, it’s simply a must addition into the Polanski repertoire.

Bitter Moon (1992)

A big jump forward, to a captivating, twisted, cynical, couple-relations tale. This movie follows Hugh Grant – in an untypical role (still uptight though) – and his wife on a cruise towards Istanbul where they meet a beautiful French femme fatale named Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski’s third and current wife, and his favorite actress), and her husband. During the cruise the husband lays out the story of their destructive relationship ever since they met in Paris, and his obsession towards her, to the brink of madness. Soon enough, Hugh himself falls prey to a dangerous attraction to Mimi.

Frantic (1988)

On a seemingly peaceful holiday in Paris, Richard and Sondra’s suitcase gets mixed up in the airport, and soon thereafter Sondra disappears. Richard approaches the authorities in the region, but no one seems to be particularly interested in helping him, so he starts his own investigation that leads him through drug smuggling and the criminal underworld. This Hitchcockian tribute is the first collaboration of Polanski and Seigner, a year before their marriage.

Ghost Writer (2010)

On with an additional thriller, in which Ewan McGregor plays a writer who is hired to write the biography of former UK prime minister Adam Lang. At first it seems like a great opportunity for Ewan, but as he delves deeper into writing the memoirs, the more he realizes that Adam Lang made some dark choices that might have not been in the interest of his country. On top of that, he starts to suspect that his predecessor was murdered.

Carnage (2011)

Deviating further from Horror or thrillers, but not from mind and soul, Carnage deals with matters of parenthood when two couples’ sons get into a fight with one another, and one of them is injured. After the incident, both parents decide to meet and solve the issue in a sensible and civil manner. Quick enough though, we realize the characteristics of each of them is so extremely different that the tension starts to build, creating a great deal of cynicism and biting attitude.

The Pianist (2002)

Familiar with Polanski’s work, critics and fans probably never expected this kind of deviation from his usual themes and moods. “The Pianist” follows the incredible moving story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a highly successful polish piano player who loses his innocence when the Nazis start rounding up all the Jewish people to concentration camps. In order to survive, he moves from one abandoned house to another. Polanski – a Polish man who grew up in the years of the Nazi occupation – received numerous awards and critical acclaim for this movie, including an Oscar for best direction.

Roman Polanski as a person and as a filmmaker might be shocking to some, but better to have your dark passenger show in your movies rather in real life. I tend to be drawn to the more disturbing, psychological and bleak aspects of his work, and I’m thankful he lets it all out and shoves it in our faces to try and deal with it. It creates an interesting cinematic experience that is difficult to find in other works. So happy birthday Roman – we hope you’ll continue to share your talent with us, beyond the upcoming Venus in Fur.

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