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culture

TIFF Counts Down to Christmas with Roman Polanski

The latest Lightbox retrospective gifts Toronto cinephiles with seven of the naughty director's best.

Roman Polanski's career hasn't always been characterized by such firm self-restraint.

Roman Polanski: God of Carnage
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Saturday December 17 to Sunday December 25, selected dates

Upping the ante on Columbia Pictures’ claim that the forthcoming remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the “feel bad movie of Christmas,” TIFF’s programmers have readied a veritable advent calendar of psychological anguish with their latest directorial retrospective. Showing now through December 25, the Grinch-approved slate features six of Roman Polanski’s bleakly brilliant early-career efforts, as well as a Christmas Day screening of 2010′s similarly sombre The Ghost Writer. As tempting as it is to interpret the timing of the series as an insidious bid to deflate Torontonians’ high Holiday spirits, TIFF’s official line is that the retrospective was scheduled in anticipation of the director’s latest release, Carnage, which arrives at the Lightbox on December 30.

Catherine Deneuve slips into philophobic psychosis in Repulsion.

Screening on Wednesday, December 21 is Polanski’s first English language feature, 1965′s Repulsion ()—also the first film in his masterfully unsettling “Apartment Trilogy.” The titular affliction refers to the psychosexual paranoia suffered by Catherine Deneuve’s virginal protagonist, which blossoms into homicidal dementia when her sister departs on holiday, leaving her alone in her London flat. Polanski immerses the audience in his lead’s increasingly fractured psyche, rendering her descent into madness via a series of hauntingly surreal hallucinations that, even 45 years later, can be seen as an evident point of reference for Darren Aronofsky in conceiving 2010′s Black Swan.

Rosemary’s Baby () remains as widely acclaimed today as when it first propelled Polanski to Hollywood stardom in 1968. Quite simply, his adaptation of Ira Levin’s bestseller is one of the best horror films ever made, expertly evoking a sustained, sinister unease, and establishing a marvelously ambiguous scenario wherein it seems equally likely that the bizarre goings-on at a Gothic Manhattan apartment building might be the product of a genuine demonic pact, or of paranoid prenatal delusions. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her actor husband (John Cassavetes) are the building’s newest tenants, and are eager to start a family, particularly once he lands a starring acting role thanks to another’s sudden misfortune. Rosemary’s pregnancy proves to be a literal nightmare, however, and she becomes consumed by concern that she’ll lose the baby. Naturally, we’re not letting on one way or the other, save to assure you that Rosemary’s Baby is a certified classic. The second and most beloved of Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy screens Friday, December 23—perfect for those who fancy a bit of Satanist mystery ahead of Santa’s big night.

Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes experience a hellish pregnancy in Rosemary's Baby.

TIFF aren’t entirely without a seasonal sense of generosity, though, hence the retrospective’s two scheduled screenings of Chinatown (). In case you missed yesterday’s screening, which was accompanied by a lecture from Toronto film critic Adam Nayman, the film also screens tomorrow, and even without Nayman’s insights, Chinatown is still a fixture in the pantheon of all-time greats. Polanski’s devastatingly nihilistic neo-noir features a signature turn from Jack Nicholson as ’30s P.I. Jake Gittes, who takes on what he believes to be a routine mission of marital reconnaissance, winding up nose-deep in a murderous scheme to divert the water reserves of an already drought-stricken L.A. Faye Dunaway is nearly as iconic as a tragic femme fatale, while John Huston’s defiantly lascivious antagonist reads as a fascinating stand-in for his controversial director.

Polanski then assigns himself the lead role in 1976′s The Tenant (), which screens on Thursday, December 22. His last film before his flight from justice in 1977, the third, Paris-set instalment of the Apartment Trilogy is an apt exploration of displacement and persecution, and like both Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, demonstrates a thematic concern with claustrophobia and paranoia, trading heavily in the tenuous nature of the boundary between the authentic and the imaginary. Polanski plays Trelkowski, a French citizen of Polish origin, who, like Rosemary, moves into a new building after the apparent suicide of a young female tenant. Also like Rosemary, Trelkowski’s neighbours are an elderly, meddlesome bunch, though The Tenant is more cagey than Rosemary’s Baby in its references to the supernatural. The film ultimately emerges as a fusion of its Apartment predecessors, but inverts the deranged aggression of Repulsion‘s Deneuve into a spookily manic portrait of self-annihilation.

Jack Nicholson's J.J. Gittes pays the price for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.

The Ghost Writer (), TIFF’s Christmas Day offering, postdates The Tenant by over 30 years, but is no less brooding, and no less personal. It was edited during Polanski’s recent period of house arrest, and features a central character in a similar predicament, in Pierce Brosnan’s Adam Lang. A former UK Prime Minister, Lang has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court and must remain in the US to avoid extradition. Ewan McGregor plays the man tasked with helping Lang complete his memoirs, and who subsequently stumbles upon a Chinatown-like web of intrigue linked to the disgraced PM. He’s no Jake Gittes, of course, but Polanski supplies his customary guile, as well as plenty of his customary cynicism—a seemingly essential ingredient where political subject matter is concerned, no matter the era.

Images courtesy of TIFF. For tickets and a complete programme schedule, visit Tiff.net

Comments

  • DRYDRY

    Me: Polanski’s unpunished criminal past (drugging and raping a 13 year old) is glibly rationalized down to “naughty director”.

    You: Yeah but he’s such an awesome director I don’t give a shit.

    Me: Yeah, you don’t.

    • Anonymous

      Indeed. Rape isn’t “naughty.” It’s cruel and criminal.

      • http://twitter.com/aHealthyDisdain Julian Carrington

        Generally speaking, I’d sooner describe rape as “cruel and criminal” than I would “naughty,” and in Polanski’s case I’d add “cowardly,” too. But “cruel, criminal, and cowardly” isn’t one of Santa’s traditional categories.

        • DRYDRY

          Where “Generally speaking, I’d sooner describe rape as “cruel and criminal” than I would “naughty,” and in Polanski’s case I’d add “cowardly,” too. But “cruel, criminal, and cowardly” isn’t one of Santa’s traditional categories.” = Yeah but he’s such an awesome director I don’t give a shit.

          • Anonymous

            I think you missed the point there.

          • DRYDRY

            Missed the crass remark the writer made while trying to make a funny Xmas joke out of Polanski drugging and raping a 13 year old? Okay then.

          • Anonymous

            Understated ≠ crass. This isn’t an article about Polanski – nor does it need to be – but about which of his films the Lightbox will be showing in the days before Christmas.

            A crass remark would have made light of the rape or blamed the victim.

          • Anonymous

            Actually, I think you missed the point.

          • http://twitter.com/aHealthyDisdain Julian Carrington

            In fairness, it actually = There’s an opportunity for crass seasonal humour in here, and I’m totally going to take it.

  • Lalpanjabi

    So the Mayor of Toronto is a “Villain” and a man who drugged and raped a 13 year old is just “naughty.” Bravo, Torontoist, Bravo.

    • Anonymous

      You’re comparing apples to fruitcakes.

      • Lalpanjabi

        Judging by the numerous comments on this post, you’re an avid rapist-defender. Keep it up.

        • Anonymous

          And that’s what’s known as libel.

  • John Semley

    Great filmmaker. Terrrrrrible babysitter.

    • Anonymous

      Now this is crass.

  • Anonymous

    Seriously, why is it still acceptable to promote the work of a child-rapist?

    • Anonymous

      Probably cause they are some of the best films in the history of film making, which have nothing at all to do with what Polanski did on his free time?

      • Anonymous

        So, in other words, “He’s such an awesome director that it’s ok if he wants to commit the occasional rape.”

        • Anonymous

          You’re ridiculously obtuse. The 2 aren’t mutually exclusive.

      • DRYDRY

        Hey I heard there was this thing called society where, if you break these things called laws, you have to stop doing whatever you’re doing (job, family life, making films, etc) and go to a place called prison for a period of time, and then after you’ve been there for a while you’re allowed to come out and resume doing whatever it is you like to do.

        • Anonymous

          That’s called justice. It’s sad if you actually believe that’s the cornerstone of society or society as a whole as you eluded.

    • Anonymous

      Are we allowed to talk about German cars without mentioning the Holocaust?

      Can we mention travel to Africa without condemnation of blood diamonds (among other issues)?

      Is it OK that we mention gas prices but not a word about the terrible conditions for women and homosexuals in the Middle East?

      French cheese, sans the institutionalized racism?

      Thai food, hold the sex tourism?

      • Anonymous

        @entish – This

      • Anonymous

        Those examples are completely different. In this case, we’re talking about the actions of one individual.

        • DRYDRY

          You do realize there’s a warrant for his arrest in the US and he is too chickenshit to ever go back there, right?

          You do realize he;’s a fugitive, right?

        • Anonymous

          Ernest Oppenheimer
          Adolph Hitler

          Actions of one individual…

      • DRYDRY

        Quite the pile of dumb apples and dumb oranges you’ve thrown together there.

        Let me try.

        How about “Can’t we just keep MIchael Jackson’s musical legacy intact? Do we have to keep talking about him raping kids and then paying off the kids’ families?”

        Oh, wait. That doesn’t quite work, does it.

        • Anonymous

          You’d have a point – if this article were about Polanski or his legacy.

          It isn’t.

        • http://twitter.com/aHealthyDisdain Julian Carrington

          Hang on, surely you’re undermining yourself here.

          Radio stations don’t refuse to play Michael Jackson, nor do they preempt his songs with a disclaimer calling attention to his alleged abuses. They continue to play his songs in heavy rotation, his estate continues to earn substantial royalties, and, by and large, people continue to enjoy his music.

          No one’s suggesting that Polanksi’s legacy as a director means that he’s no longer a criminal. Rather, they choose to evaluate his films independently of his personal misdeeds, just like we do with Jackson’s music.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think Michael Jackson is quite an apt comparison here, given that there’s some chance he’s innocent (however slight).

            Polanski pleaded guilty, then fled punishment and has been rewarded for his subsequent work. Chosing to do so normalizes and shows acceptance of his actions, and says that rape is not really a big deal.

          • http://twitter.com/aHealthyDisdain Julian Carrington

            I agree that there is a material difference between Jackson in Polanski in terms of the latter having actually been convicted of a crime.

            I was suggesting that bringing up Jackson is counter-productive for DRYDRY, specifically because Jackson is an example of an instance where society does generally regard the quality of his work as a separate issue from his personal character or alleged misdeeds.

            With the exception of The Ghost Writer, the films in this retrospective were made before Polanski’s conviction, and don’t suddenly become insignificant because their principal author committed a crime.

            That said, I do agree that there’s a greater issue with respect to Polanski’s work post-’77, and that there is a degree of tacit acceptance of his actions.

  • DRYDRY

    As soon as the child rapist serves his jail time and pays his debt to society, I will watch his films.

    Until then, he’s a scumbag child rapist.

    That his art is more important to some of you clowns than justice speaks volumes about your priorities.