Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir
by Fabien Lemercier
17/05/2012 - "Living through such an ordeal, you don't realise to what extent it affects your spirit." Roman Polanski's life has not lacked in tragedies or disasters, with several personal misfortunes punctuating his ascent towards cinema's hall of fame. This incredible destiny of violent shadows and providential light is the subject of Laurent Bouzereau's documentary Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, yesterday shown at a special screening in the Official Selection of the 65th Cannes Film Festival.
Numerous other (visual and literary) works have already dissected the director's life and work to the most minute detail, but what is different in this film is the form and setting. Whereas Polanski is usually rather hostile towards journalists, who have often shamelessly made him suffer, here he opens up in an interview with a man he trusts: Andrew Braunsberg, who produced three of his films (including The Tenant) and who has been his friend since the 1960s. As for the setting, it's equally unique as it's the Swiss chalet where he was under house arrest between 2009 and 2010, waiting for a possible extradition to the United States. These two ingredients give the documentary a very intimate tone, showing well-known events in an often moving light. Under the icon, it lets transpire the man whose heart was several times broken by forces beyond his control.
From his childhood in the Krakow ghetto (famine, the discovery of what it meant to be Jewish, the raid that took away his mother, forced labour to make paper bags, his father's arrest, the Nazi climate of oppression...), the filmmaker remembers with great precision and a few tears. After this period, he discovered his vocation as an artist, first as an actor aged 13, notably in Wajda's first film (A Generation), then at the Lodz Film School. Despite the communist regime's pitfalls ("I didn't have the required social origins"), the international success of Knife in the Water (nominated for an Oscar) opened up doors for him (Nobody at the time wanted the screenplays he had co-written with Gérard Brach). After that came his well-known career in Europe, then in the United States, and the horrific murder of his wife Sharon Tate in 1969 ("Everything collapsed"), for which the media attacked him, in a foretaste of the media storm in 1978 when he was arrested in the United States for unlawful sex with a minor, a case that would haunt him until 2010. Laurent Bouzereau's film honestly and modestly evokes this epic and dramatic life, through the voice of its main character, who makes the most of the occasion to slip in a few comments about his filmography (Cul-de-sac is a film that he is very proud of, he assimilates Repulsion to a sort of prostitution, and he would like to takes the reels of The Pianist with him to his grave).
Produced by the United Kingdom with Italy and Germany, Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir was a great occasion for the Cannes Film Festival to give homage to one of the greatest filmmakers of his time, an artist who was able to remain optimistic despite the storms he weathered during his very unusual life.
(Translated from French)