Roman Polanski picked up his lifetime achievement award on September 27th at the Zurich Film Festival, “two years exactly day for day” as he said, after he was arrested at the Zurich airport and brought to jail for a crime committed 33 years earlier.
It is under a warm and long ovation that he came on the stage at the movie theatre Corso 1 in Bellevue. A large audience had come to watch the ceremony: movie lovers, Polanski fans, international and Swiss journalists, but also guests like mayor of Zurich, Corinne Mauch, President of the Jury, Laurence Fishburne and long life friend, Andy Braunsberg.
First touching the trophy with his right hand, then smiling, he tapped it a couple of times and said “Well, what can I say, better late than never.”
The crowd started laughing while the directors of the event tried to remain composed. Both Nadja Schildknecht and Karl Spoerri, had invited Polanski two years ago, impressed by his work since decades.
In a welcoming speech they thanked him with great emotion for being here and hoped this would make up for what happened in September 2009. “We could not have hoped or asked for anything more”, said Nadja Schildknecht.
Roman Polanski continued, he had to come back for the festival.
He used humour, but emotions were there. He went on to thank the prison staff and Head of the Zurich Prison, who all did everything they could to make his stay in jail bearable.
The crowd bursts into laugh once more. While looking at his trophy he assured “this is not a joke, and far from it”, insisting on the last part.
As requested he did not give any interviews to the media. He explained why he could not give a speech that night: “it is a very moving moment for me, so don’t expect any speeches”.
He ended “I love Switzerland and I am very happy to be here.”
Then, the public found out about the surprise film they had come to watch: “Roman Polanski: A Memoir Film”.
Filmed in Polanski’s chalet in the Bernese Oberland resort of Gstaad, the documentary retraced with great deepness and emotion the life of the director since his birth. A long part of it talked about his difficult time during World War II and how he survived the Holocaust. He gave moving examples of this time:
He also spoke about his film debuts and his personal life and the loss of his second wife, Sharon Tate murdered by the Manson’ group while she was 8 months pregnant.
The documentary starts with Polanski recounting his story about his 2009 arrest. He explained how it happens and how it was in the jail. In the movie we see clips of Samantha Geimer, his victim of 1977.
It is based on two interviews with Andy Braunsberg during the time Polanski had to remain in house arrest in Gstaad (12/2009 to 07/2010) and then a few months later when he was free.
It was quite interesting to see how he used his painful past and memories in his movies like the Pianist, Tess or Oliver Twist.
Despite trying to be funny like the time he said in the 1960’s he went to the Venice festival at a time when it was fun to go to festivals, not like today .
Andy Braunsberg is long time friend of Polanski. He came to see him in the Zurich jail. He said in the documentary to have known him since 1964. He arrived on the green carpet with the surprise film maker, Laurent Bouzereau. Both men gave a speech in Polanski honor.
Roman Polanski was born in Paris from Polish parents in 1933. He went back there after the war to live with his sister, Régina. He lives in France with his 45 years old wife, actress Emmanuelle Seignier. They have two children together. Polanski has been coming to Switzerland for 40 years.