Mixed emotions as Roman Polanski turns 85

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Knife in the Water (1962)

A woman and a man tightly embrace on a yacht, but looks can be deceiving. Made in Poland in 1962, Polanski's first full-length feature film tells of a dramatic love triangle. The concept of creating human conflict in the smallest of spaces, charged with eroticism, would go on to be a regular feature of his later films.

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Repulsion (1965)

Three years later, Polanski moved west for his second film. The psychological thriller Repulsion stars a young Catherine Deneuve in a London apartment on the verge of madness. Using many elements of the horror movie genre, the film reveals the desperation of a young woman who was likely sexually abused by her father when she was little.

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Dance of the Vampires (1967)

Also made in England but more of a box office hit was Dance of the Vampires, known in the US as The Fearless Vampire Killers. Playing around with elements from the then-popular vampire genre, Polanski gave it a more cheerful twist. Unlike in Repulsion or the subsequent Rosemary's Baby, the director gave audiences a liberating laugh and took a lead role himself.

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Rosemary's Baby (1968)

When the psychological thriller Rosemary's Baby hit theaters, cinemagoers were given little to laugh about. The story tells of a childless couple, played by Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, who move into a New York apartment that seems to hold a horrid secret. Rosemary's Baby has been described as a "frightening tale of satanism and pregnancy that is even more disturbing than it sounds."

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Chinatown (1974)

After a failed adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth and the failed comedy What?, Chinatown was a flawless cinematic masterpiece. With a standout performance from Jack Nicholson, the 1974 detective film is both a nod to film noir and a development of the crime-mystery genre. It also penetrates deep into the psyche of American society.

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The Tenant (1976)

Polanski's next hit, The Tenant, saw him return to the theme of one of his earlier films. This time it's a man struck by delusions within the four walls of his Paris apartment. Once again, Polanski proved his excellent acting abilities, playing the tenant himself, joined by the French actress Isabelle Adjani.

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Tess (1979)

Polanski's adaptation of a classic piece of English literature came as a surprise to his fans. Based on the 1891 novel by Thomas Hardy, Tess was an opulent cinematic experience featuring many classic Polanski themes in a new guise. "I'm not looking for originality, I'm looking for more simplicity," the director said of his work then.

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The Pianist (2002)

The movie world was astonished when Polanski first presented The Pianist at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. The story of the Polish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman, who survives the Nazi-era Warsaw Ghetto, was also a reflection of Polanski's own life as a child in the Krakow ghetto for Jews. The Pianist won the Palm D'or and several Oscars.

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The Ghost Writer (2010)

The Ghost Writer again showed Polanski's cinematic mastery. Starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor and based on a novel by Richard Harris, the elegant thriller is set on an island off the US East Coast. Polanski shot much of the film in Germany.

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Carnage (2011)

Soon after, Carnage also proved to be another Polanski masterpiece. Although the plot, taken from a play by the successful author Yasmina Reza, plays out almost exclusively in an apartment building, Polanski once again unleashed a breathtaking drama about human division and passion.

The Polish director has had a career spanning nearly six decades. But can his professional work be considered without reflecting on his controversial private life?

The past is always catching up with Roman Polanski. Many members of his family, including his mother, were murdered by the Nazi regime. Polanksi himself only just escaped a similar fate. The next tragedy to befall him was the brutal murder of his heavily pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, in 1969.

Then Polanski went from victim to perpetrator. In 1977 he was charged with the rape of a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, but fled the United States before the final sentence was handed down. He has since been accused of assault by several more women.

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60 years of film

Plenty has been written about Polanski over the years: about his private life, his Polish roots, his French homeland, his relationship to the United States, and of course his films.

During a career spanning nearly 60 years, the director made some 20 feature films and several shorts, back in the early years. He has even cropped up here and there in acting roles and has also strayed, if seldom, into the theatre and opera world.

While some of his more recent films, such as this year's movie adaptation of Based on a True Story, have fallen somewhat flat, he still counts several "masterworks" among his titles, like the psychological thriller Rosemary's Baby or crime mystery Chinatown.

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Controversial figure

There is no doubt that the director has a huge body of work behind him as a noted film director – but is it really possible to consider this professional achievement without reflecting on the man's complicated past and controversial present? A similar debate is currently surrounding Woody Allen – the hugely successful Hollywood director who has been accused of sexual assaulting his step-daughter.

Polanski himself said in an interview in 1986 that every film is a kind of "psychoanalysis" that "reflects the soul of the director."

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