WHO is he?
Polish-born film director, producer, actor and scenarist who has made over 20 feature films and several short films since the late Fifties. Polanski’s working career has spanned diverse genres, geographies and ideological climates and his personal life riddled with numerous grave controversies. He won the top prizes at the Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals respectively for Cul-de-sac (1966) and The Pianist (2002) and took the Academy Award for Direction for the latter film.
WHAT are his films about?
Polanski’s early short films were absurdist lampoons of Polish communism, while his subsequent films in England — many of them belonging to the horror genre — were subversive critiques of conventional notions about masculinity, psychological normalcy and moral righteousness. The most persistent idea that pervades his body of work is that of banality of evil. The question of what it takes for Good to cross over to Evil is one that is at the heart of these films and which, one imagines, has its roots in Polanski’s grappling with the fact of the Holocaust, an event that marked a profound personal loss for him.
Polanski, like Brian de Palma, was influenced by Alfred Hitchcock and his films demonstrate a clear-eyed mastery over the techniques that Hitchcock pioneered or refined: point-of-view shots, emphasis on character subjectivity, claustrophobic use of interior locations and keen eye for material objects of a scene. He additionally uses deep space compositions, pan shots that survey the environment a character inhabits and a sufficiently restrained soundtrack that complements the image instead of supplanting it.
WHY is he of interest?
It would be quite unfortunate if Polanski is to be remembered primarily by the extraordinary events surrounding his personal life (though they are certainly vital elements). One of the foremost cinematic modernists to have worked in the popular format, Polanski has persistently, through his work, engaged with ideas most pertinent to modern life and his cinema has influenced scores of important filmmakers from the newer generation.
WHERE to discover him?
Polanski’s second feature and the first he made in England, Repulsion (1965) charts the gradual disintegration of Carol (a perfectly cast Catherine Deneuve), a foreigner living in a modest apartment in London. A minimalist masterwork and a watershed for horror cinema, the film transcends simple genre ambitions and unfolds as a critique of social hegemony and religious dogmatism.