Roman Polanski was born in France to Polish parents, but three years later, the family returned to Krakow, Poland. After World War II broke out, his Jewish parents were both taken to concentration camps. His mother, four months pregnant with her second child, was killed soon after in a gas chamber in Auschwitz. Roman lived with various Catholic families who hid the boy from the Nazis. His father survived the war and the two were reunited in 1945. Roman became interested in acting and appeared in several films before going to the Lodz Film School to learn filmmaking. At school, he made several short films, including Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958), which won several international awards. At about this time, Polanski met and married his first wife, actress Barbara Lass.
Soon after, he wrote and directed his first feature-length film, an erotic thriller called Knife in the Water (1962). It was a big success for the young director, winning the FIPRESCI Award at the Venice Film Festival and even being nominated for a BAFTA award and an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Thanks to his darkly unique perspective and grim, often nihilistic approach to storytelling, director Roman Polanski has left an indelible mark on world cinema.
Although his films have been compared to those of Alfred Hitchcock, with their use of gallows humor, tension, and occasional surrealism to tell amoral stories of ordinary men struggling to cope in a hostile, ironic world, Polanski, unlike Hitchcock, has chosen to experiment with a variety of genres. In this regard, the director has considered himself a “cinematic playboy” intent on exploring the possibilities of all film categories. A uniformly pessimistic viewpoint provides the clearest link to entries in Polanski’s body of work, something that is widely traced back to years of childhood trauma.
The Knife in the Water screens at Pera Film on Thursday 27 February.