Inside Roman Polanski's Polish Secret-Service File

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Jens Kalaene / EPA

Director Roman Polanski

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According to Professor Tadeusz Lubelski, film scholar at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, this kind of state criticism further convinced Polanski of what he already knew: he needed to make a film in the West. "In the People's Republic of Poland, he could never have made Dance of the Vampires, Rosemary's Baby or Chinatown," Lubelski explains.

After the premiere of Knife in the Water in March 1962, Polanski spent most of his time outside of Poland. His first few years abroad were not easy as he struggled to find a producer. In 1963, however, Polanski made his international breakthrough when a still image from Knife in the Water was featured on the cover of TIME magazine and the film clinched an Oscar nomination.

By the 1970s, communist Poland had a new government led by Edward Gierek, whose views were significantly more liberal than those of his predecessor. "The authorities treated Polanski with a lot of hypocrisy during this time," says Lubelski. On the one hand, the regime was reluctant to praise anything Hollywood stood for. On the other, it wanted to resume contact with the West and sought to have good relations with the now successful director, whose films were almost all being shown in Poland.

In the mid-1970s, Polanski obtained French citizenship, and the Polish government was not happy. In July 1976, he managed to renew his passport, explaining that he would like to attend the Polish premiere of his new movie Chinatown. He also hinted that he might be willing to produce a film in Poland.

When the message reached the Polish government, however, a certain comrade Krasko decided that Polanski should not be invited to Poland. He would be allowed to enter as a private citizen on a Polish passport, but would not be granted a visa for his French one.

In 1977, the Los Angeles police arrested Roman Polanski on charges of rape, which were plea-bargained down to "sexual intercourse with a minor," after he had sex with a 13-year-old girl. Before the final sentencing, he fled to France, fearing he was going to face a long jail sentence. A year later, the secret police in Warsaw, which was still closely following his every move, made the filmmaker persona non grata in the Polish People's Republic. He was listed as a French citizen.

The National Hero Returned Home
In 1980, Polanski was removed from the blacklist and was allowed to visit his father in Krakow. During his visit, he made a number of television and radio appearances in which he spoke very highly of Poland.

By that time, things were beginning to change in the People's Republic. The Solidarity trade union was fighting for workers' rights and social change. State censorship was starting to loosen its grip, and in 1981, Polanski was even allowed to direct Peter Shaffer's Amadeus in a Warsaw theater. The production was a hit.

In December of that year, however, Solidarity was prohibited as the country entered a period of martial law. As a result, freedoms were significantly restricted, and many Polish artists responded with a boycott of state media. Polanski's short adventure as a director in Poland was already over.

By the end of the decade, change came again in Poland with the election of the first noncommunist party. The new, democratic Poland, hailed Polanski as a "great Polish director." When Warsaw was chosen for the 2002 premiere of The Pianist, the country exploded with pride. Many former communists went to the screening and agreed that it was a fantastic film.

When Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in 2009, a great wave of solidarity spread across Poland. Lech Walesa, co-founder of the Solidarity party, argued that the director should be forgiven for this one sin. In 2010, when the Swiss government released Polanski from house arrest after denying extradition requests from the U.S., the Polish Foreign Ministry reacted to the decision "with great satisfaction." The Republic of Poland could once again celebrate its hero.

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