TIFF BELL Lightbox - Roman Polanski

17 Dec 2011


The formidable ROMAN POLSNKSI and his films:

Roman Polanski, exiled from the United States from a sex crime with a minor is one of the most prolific international film directors still living today.

Ironically, his best films ROSMARY’S BABY and CHINATOWN were made in the U.S. and the American Academy of Motion Pictures awarded him the honour of Best Director for his film THE PIANIST.  Polanski will still be arrested if he enters the U.S.

Born in Poland and currently living in France. Polanski has made films internationally in Poland, the U.S., the U.K. and France.  His always absorbing films touched on the themes of madness, claustrophobia, cruelty and madness.  These themes are revisited in his latest triumph CARNAGE which opens December 23rd and at December 30th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

A retrospective of his films including his first feature shot in Poland KNIFE IN THE WATER runs from the 17th of December to January.  Capsule reviews of all of his films to be screened at the Lightbox will be posted on the website 17th Dec. (thanks to TIFF Bell Lightbox for providing the screeners).  Though his films often contain subtle, wicked humour, Polanski has only made one comedy THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS.

For full program listing, showtimes, venue and ticket pricing, please check the TIFF website at:
Here are a few quotes on Polanski courtesy of Bell Lightbox:

“Here is one of the few modern masters of the thriller and the film noir.”—Roger Ebert

“His filmography amounts to its own microcosm, cutting a swath through a half-century’s worth
of cinematic trends.”—Dennis Lim, The New York Times

“Roman Polanski knows that a sleek, stylish thriller is often the best route to weightier matters.”
—Karen James, The New York Times

“My films are the expression of momentary desires. I follow my instincts,
but in a disciplined way.”—Roman Polanski

Capsule Reviews: (not completed)

CHINATOWN (USA 201) ***** Top 10
Directed by Roman Polanski
Hailed as one of the greatest films ever made, garnishing 11 Academy Award nominations and clearly Polanski’s best film, better than ROSEMARY’S BABY, CHINATOWN is a marvel in film noir.  Private Investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired to trail the chief engineer of the city’s Water Department, Hollis Mulwray.  Jake discovers a plot involving the dirty selling of water using money paid by the citizens to build a dam.  The investigation leads to Hollis being murdered and the wife, Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) hiring Jake to find out why.  Complications ensue with the involvement of Mrs. Mulwary’s dangerous father (John Huston).  Polanksi, working with the Oscar winning script by Robert Towne, has created a solid masterpiece in mystery and film noir.  The film is a compelling watch from start to finish with Polanski exacting his wicked touches everywhere.  For example in the scene where Jake enters the City’s Book of Records, he deliberately inserts a rude and lazy clerk to create comical drama when Jake needs help in finding information.  CHINATOWN only won one of 11 Oscars likely because the film was likely too violent for its day.  But it should have won Best Picture, Best Actor (Nicholson later won for CUCKOO’S NEST) and Best Actress for Nicholson and Dunaway and of course Best Director for Polanski.
(Screenings: Sun Dec 18th, 3 pm and Tue Dec 20th at 9 pm)

CUL-DE-SAC (UK 1966) ****
Directed by Roman Polanski
The CUL-DE-SAC of the film title refers to both the dead-end lives of the three main characters as well as the physical termination of the road to a tower castle on Holy Island, on the east coast of Northern England where the film is set.  The film is early black and white Polanski but all the elements of his later films – claustrophobia, madness, idiosyncrasies, isolation and cruelty – are present.  George (Donald Pleasance in his best role), a retired entrepreneur and ex-officer in the army is living in the isolated castle with his nymphomaniac wife, Teresa (Françoise Dorléac).  Into their lives enter two wounded gangsters after a botched robbery.  Albie (Richard MacGowran) dies while Dickie (Lionel Stander) who take the place and them hostage.  Here are three utterly detestable characters which Polanksi uses to full cinematic and theatrical effect.  The results are bizarre if not hilarious but never boring.  What Teresa does to Dickie while he is sleeping (called the bicycle) is the film’s most hilarious if not craziest part.  Jack Nicholson claimed that CUL-DE-SAC is his favourite film of all time and it is easy why.  He is ideal for the part of Dickie, the crazed and brutal gunman.  Best of all, Polanski also uses the location to its full effect especially the steps coming down from the castle.  The couple also keep a whole lot of chickens that play a big part throughout the movie.
(Screening Dec 8th, Sun 9 pm)

THE GHOST WRITER (UK/France/Germany 2010) ****
Directed by Roman Polanski
The film centres on a ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) hired to finish the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) after the first author apparently committed suicide.  But Lang is up for a tough time as a scandal revealing his involvement in the torture of terrorists is exposed.  At the same time, it turns out that his marriage to wife Ruth (Olivia Williams last seen as the unforgettable Miss Stubbs in AN EDUCATION) is on the rocks.  Suicide turns out to be murder with the ghostwriter entwined in the mystery with his life at stake.  Polanksi relies on old fashioned cinematics to invoke suspense and audience anticipation.  From the musical score by Alexandre Desplat to the sets and art direction, Polanksi creates an atmosphere of impending danger.  The famous Hitchcock technique of dialogue unheard but seen through a glass window, in this case of the former Prime Minister losing it on his mobile creates more anticipation and curiosity from the audience.  As for dialogue, the confrontational conversation between McGregor and Tom Wilkinson (as Tom Emmett) is both sinister and precise in information portrayed.  McGregor is excellent as the ghostwriter, a strong character necessary to hold the narrative together.  The supporting cast could not be more impressive.  Not to be missed and bitingly funny is his take on the world courts and justice, in reflection of his recent arrest by Swiss police.
(Screening Dec 25ht Christmas Day 4 pm)

KNIFE IN THE WATER (Poland 1962) ***1/2
Directed by Roman Polanski
Polanski’s first film and the only one shot in Polish.  KNIFE IN THE WATER contains all the elements found in Polanski’s later movies – solitude, madness, jealousy, horror and claustrophobia.  Like the poem The Ancient Mariner that goes: “Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink..”, there is open space everywhere where the characters take a sailboat out on a lake, but nowhere to hide.  This is a dram of three unlikable creatures that torment the hell out of each other coming to the inevitable conclusion in which everyone emerges a loser.  Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) and Krystyna (Jolant Umeecka) are driving to a lake to go sailing when they come upon a young man with no name (Zygmunt Malanowicz) hitchhiking in the middle of the road.  After nearly hitting him, Andrzej invites the young man to pick his seat and to take a nap while they continue driving. When they arrive at the docks, instead of leaving the young man behind, Andrzej invites him to sail with them for the day. The young man accepts the offer, and, not knowing much about sailing, is forced to learn many hard lessons from Andrzej.  This is Polanski torture drama of the highest form, with bits of wicked humour thrown in for good measure.  The film is compelling to watch, considering its bleak subject.  KNIFE IN THE WATER is perhaps the most esteemed Polish film being nominated that year for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
(Screening Dec 17th Sat 9pm)

ROSEMARY’S BABY (USA 1968) ***** Top 10
Directed by Roman Polanksi
The most frightening film of all time, based on the best selling novel by Ira Levin and directed by Roman Polanski, ROSEMARY’s BABY is the story of what happens to expecting Rosemary (Mia Farrow) when she is chosen to bear the baby of the devil.  Hubby Guy sells her and the baby for his fame.  Rosemary learns slowly of her demise and attempts to save herself and her baby.  Polanksi’s film is more audience anticipation that cheap horror shocks.  Polanski creates great Hitchcockian style suspense especially in the famous segment involving a room with door slightly ajar, that the audience reportedly strain their necks to see what is happening within.  The film is most scary for the fact that Polanski leaves the worst fears to the audience’s imagination.  Farrow is superb as is Ruth Gordon who won the Academy Award for best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Rosemary’s nosy satanic neighbour.  And the best scariest line in the film is when Rosemary cries: “This is no dream, this is actually happening!” And the anticipation that Polanski creates of the audience wanting to see what the baby looks at the film’s climax is something yet to be matched!
(Screening Fri Dec 23rd, at 9 pm)

REPULSION (UK 1965) ***
Directed by Roman Polanski
As in ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE TENANT, REPULSION documents the lead character’s decent in to madness, largely due to loneliness in a overbearing apartment.  While there is a real reason for this madness in ROSEMARY’S BABY (Rosemary’s husband selling her and the baby to the devil) and in THE TENANT (the other dwellers trying to drive the protagonist insane and to commit suicide), the real reason in this film is not that apparent.  A Belgian girl, Carol (Catherine Deneuve), works as a manicurist at a London beauty salon. While having lunch, a good looking young man, Colin (John Fraser), spots her and makes a date for another evening.  She shares a flat with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Her sister’s married lover, Michael (Ian Hendry), brings out her dislike of men which she cannot explain to Colin.  Polanski hints at this dislike for men that drives Carol crazy.  Though there is no real reason for this, Polanski keeps at it all the way through the film.  When Michael takes Helen abroad for a holiday and Carol is left alone in their flat, Carol’s moments of catalepsy and hallucination finally reaches uncontrollable proportions.  Though believable and really scary in parts, this is Polanski’s least satisfying film, also due to its odd ending.  One can argue that this film is made scarier for the fact that Carol goes crazy for no apparent reason.
(Screening Wednesday Dec 21st at 9 pm)

THE TENANT (France 1976) ****
Directed by Roman Polanski
THE TENANT is pre-ROSEMARY’S BABY in terms of horror and claustrophobic apartment living.  Many of the touches of the classic ROSEMARY’S BABY are evident in this earlier Polanski entry.  In Paris, the timid file clerk Trelkovsky (Polanski himself) rents an old apartment without bathroom where the previous tenant, the Egyptologist Simone Choule, committed suicide. The unfriendly concierge (Shelley Winters) and the tough landlord Mr. Zy (Melvyn Douglas) establish stringent rules of behavior and Trekovsky feels ridden by his neighbours.  Meanwhile he visits Simone in the hospital and befriends her girlfriend Stella (Isabelle Adjani) who he has an affair and falls in love with.  After the death of Simone, Trekovsky feels obsessed for her and believes his landlord and neighbours are plotting a scheme to force him to also commit suicide by making him Simone Choule.  Whether this is true is up to the viewer to decide but one thing is certain and that is Trelkovsky actually goes crazy.  This is the one difference between this film and ROSEMARY’S BABY as Rosemary is totally sane.  But THE TENANT is just as scary especially when Trelkovsky discovers (like Rosemary discovers of her husband) that she is in league with the ‘rest of them’.  THE TENANT is also hilarious in parts with no impact on the scares, a no easy feat, credit to Polanski.  A document of a man’s decent into madness is not something one wants to see on screen, but Polanski has created one of the scariest films on screen with THE TENANT.
(Screening Thursday Dec 22nd at 9 pm)

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