Roman Polanski: Roman Holiday

A lighthearted jaunt around Paris with Roman Polanski, director of some of the darkest, sexiest films on-screen, and participant in some of the darkest, weirdest events in Hollywood.

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If Roman Polanski's life were a movie you'd never believe it. His childhood was spend in Poland during the Holocaust; his father survived the camps, but his mother died at Auschwitz. Polanski grew up to be a filmmaker who, with films like Repulsion, in which Catherine Deneuve played a psychotic young women who slaughtered men unlucky enough to enter her apartment, gained on international reputation that led him to Hollywood. There, his first film, Rosemary's Baby, in which Mia Farrow gives birth to the devil's son, established hi dark vision as mainstream film entertainment.

Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate, were expecting a baby in 1969 when Charles Manson's disciples entered their home and killed everyone inside. Polanski, who had been away, because obsessed with finding the killers: trusting no one, he even ran tests on his friends' cars for possible bloodstains.

Five years later Polanski made Chinatown, a '30s L.A. mystery of murder, money, corruption, incest and betrayal. A few years after that, during a photo shoot for Vogue Hommes, Polanski had what he claims was consensual sex with a minor at Jack Nicholson's home. This led to a charge of rape and boiling Tinseltown scandal. After pleading guilty to one count and spending time in prison, he thought the trouble was over, but upon his release, he heard that the judge intended to put him back, in jail, so he hopped the next plane to Europe. He has lived in Paris ever since.

Now 60 years old, Polanski is married to 28-year-old actress Emmanuelle Seigner (who has starred in two of his films, Frantic and Bitter Moon) and has a two-year-old daughter named Morgane. He has just finished his newest film, Death and the Maiden, based on Ariel Dorfman's play about a woman (Sigourney Weaver) who thinks the man who shows up at her house (Ben Kingsley) is the very person who tortured her in an unnamed South American country.

I met Polanski as he was putting the finishing touches on Death and the Maiden in Paris. He works in a quiet suburb that is so drab and undistinguished; it could be located in Anywhere, USA.

"I don't know where to begin," I begin, as Roman Polanski and i walk from the mixing room to a small restaurant. "I saw all your movies again last week, read your autobiography, and read every interview with you that's ever been published."

"You had nothing better to do with your time?" he asks in his heavily accented English.

"This is my job," I say.

"Well, so now there is nothing to talk about," he says. "You know everything, you've seen everything."

"Wouldn't you love to see a story about yourself that doesn't contain the three words 'unlawful sexual intercourse'?"

Polanski visibly brightens at the thought.

"Sorry," I say. "This ain't it."

"It always comes back to that," he says wearily. But he's smiling.

"I asked a hundred people about you..."

"People who know me or only of me?" he asks.

"Both."

"And?" he asks hopefully.

I rotate my hand in the universal gesture of fifty/fifty: "Pervert/fool. Except for three of my girlfriends who think the whole thing with the girl was overblown, the rest pretty much fell into those categories."

"Everybody's got an opinion, eh?" he says. For the next 10 minutes, he translates the menu from French (I don't speak a word) and extols the merits of blood sausage and kidneys. I choose rack of lamb, and so does he. We split an appetizer of foie gras.

"I have a bone to pick with you," I tell him, trying not to obsess on what a cholesterol nightmare this is. "I know you and Emmanuelle have a child. And I read all these interviews where you said how sorry you felt for people who didn't have children, because they would never know this fabulous thing they were missing. What kind of crap is this?"

"This is not crap," he says, raising his voice. "Why do you think it's crap?"

"For 60 years you didn't have a baby, you were missing this and didn't know it? You were miserable, but you just weren't smart enough to realize it?"

"You see other people being happy, so you suspect that it's something great, but it's the difference between watching, for example, somebody having an orgasm and experiencing one for yourself."

Oh.

"You don't understand what I'm saying?" he asks, getting a little red in the face. "Do you have children?"

"No."

"No! I would know it right away from what you said. Have you ever been in love?"

This is not going the way I planned it. "Yes, I'm in love."

"There are some people who go through their lives without being in love. You think they miss something or not?"

"Yeah, they miss something..." I'm fervently hoping no one in the restaurant understands English.

"Don't you feel sorry for them?" he asks.

"Not in the least. What am I, God? I gotta feel sorry for everyone who doesn't get to experience everything?" Now I'm shouting. "Maybe love would fuck up their ability to create, maybe it would derail their plans. Maybe the sex would confuse them. No, I don't feel sorry..."

Polanski puts his hand on mine. "Let's eat," he says, becoming at once very French and very fatherly.

The foie gras calms our nerves, but who knows what it's doing to our arteries?

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