Roman Polanski: A film memoir

February 21, 2013 by Henry Benjamin
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Andrew Braunsberg, is a close friend and former business partner of iconic movie director Roman Polanski. Their intimate filmed conversation originally intended to be private, during Polanski’s house arrest in Zurich are the subject of a new film “Roman Polanski – a Film Memoir”.

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Andrew Braunsberg talks with Roman Polanski

Andrew Braunsberg talks with Roman Polanski

In 2009, Paris-based Polanski, on arrival at Zurich to receive a film award, was arrested by Swiss authorities on behalf of the U.S. Polanski had fled America in 1977 following his pleading guilty to a charge of having unlawful sex with a minor. The Swiss kept him under house arrest and then released him. He was free to return to his home in Paris. Polanski has French citizenship. During his period, his old friend Braunsberg together with a film crew well-known to Polanski, filmed a highly personal interview which Braunsberg had planned purely for archival purposes. The sessions between the two en are now the subject of a film directed by  documentary maker Laurent Bouzerau.

J-Wire’s Henry Benjamin spoke with Andrew Braunsberg

JW: This is not the first movie made on Polanski. What makes this one different?

AB: There have not been that many made. The main one which comes to mind dealt with the trial which took place in the late 70s. The film “Wanted and Desired” won two Emmys. It was a really good film but our film was born out of completely different circumstances. Following his house arrest he was visited at Christmas time by his wife and children. They had to go back to school while his wife was being pursued by the paparazzi. Roman was very depressed. He was facing extradition and everything looked very, very bleak. I felt that by recording memoirs of his life, it would help take his mind off his situation at that time. It was not planned as a film. Just memories he could record for his children. We recorded for a week with a crew he knew well. There was a lot of stuff which I knew and a lot of stuff which I didn’t. It was very emotional. We let is sit for a few months. Roman knew Laurent, one of the world’s leading art movie-makers so we asked him to look at the footage. He loved what he saw and we invited him to write an outline of how he would prepare a film for public screening. I’ve known Roman since the early 60s and I know his story is amazing. He is a former actor and is very articulate.

JW:  How close to the truth was “Wanted and Desired”?

AB: The film focused on his legal situation and it was totally accurate.

JW:  You met Roman Polanski in 1964. How did you meet and how did you become so close?

AB:  I spoke French and Roman was coming to England to make “Repulsion” and did not speak a word of English. I was studying law at the time and a mutual friend suggested that I show him around London. I liked going to the movies but I had not seen any of his movies and I did not know who he was. I had never heard of him. As happens sometimes in life, we hit it off amazing well..and we are still very close friends today. The friendship was instantaneous and immediate.

JW: How did you enter the movie industry?

AB: I was 22 when I met Roman and had not the slightest intention of entering the movie industry. I was focused on law. I started hanging out with Roman and we saw each other almost every day. I went to visit a set and I thought ‘this looks really interesting’. In 1969, Roman asked me to become his business partner and we remained partners until he left the States in 1977. I decided to stay in Hollywood.

JW: Roman Polanski’s father was Jewish but his mother was a Catholic who was to die pregnant in Auschwitz. Does Roman identify with being Jewish?

AB: Absolutely. In no way is he a practising Jew. He does not keep the Sabbath or go to synagogue, but if you ask him what he is, he considers himself Jewish.

JW: In the film, Polanski refers to his father calling him a liar, which may be a reflection on his creative mind. What was the relationship like between the two men?

AB: During the war, Roman was separated from his parents. His mother never came back and for many years he did not see his father. When his father did return, he met another woman. There was no kind of “Daddy” relationship…because there was no Daddy.

JW: Yet in the film, Roman is visibly affected when footage is shown of “O Mein Papa” being sung in German. Why?

AB:  In the end, he became close to his father. A father is a father. If a child does not see a father for many years, there still remains a bond between them. It’s in our genetic code. The connection is there with parents even if you do not get on with them.

JW: You have not been business partners since 1977 and your partnership involved producing some of his movies. Will you become involved with each other again?

AB: Oh yes.  We have made a very successful musical together called “The Dance of the Vampires” which has grossed over $400 dollars. We are planning to make a film of that in a year or so.

JW: Were you with him when he was arrested in Zurich?

AB: No. But it was like a déjà vu. His agent called to tell me had been arrested..just as they did in 1977 when was arrested in L.A. I couldn’t believe he had been arrested for rape. I was in shock and the next morning the story had swept the world. So I was equally as shocked when he was arrested in Zurich. He had a house in Switzerland and had been traveling all over the world. It remains a mystery as to what precipitated this arrest in Zurich. He had been invited by the Swiss Government to the film awards. The mechanics remain unclear. Was it a lowly functionary within the Swiss system? Was it the Americans pushing for an arrest  ? We don’t know.

JW: You were with Roman when he received the news about the Manson murders and his wife Sharon Tate losing her life pregnant as was his mother. Do you think that this direct link makes a special impact on this film?

AB: When you are making a fiction film, you always want to embellish the story, but Roman has an amazing memory for detail. Many people who talk about things they are not totally aware of get lost. But he knows and he does not get lost.

JW: Polanski’s life seems one of many flights. He fled from Poland to avoid the Nazis, he fled Poland yet again to avoid conscription, he fled the U.S. to avoid prison, he fled London for Paris where he was safe.

AB: I wouldn’t put it like that. He fled from the Nazis because he would have been shot. He had been in prison in the U.S. He did so as a punishment for what he did wrong following a deal between the prosecution, the defence and the judge. When he got out of prison, the judge reneged on the deal saying he would send him back to prison for an indeterminate time and that at the end of that time he would be deported forever. No rational human being would have done anything differently to what Roman did and the prosecutor said publicly that he totally understood why Roman left the U.S.

JW: Can he travel anywhere in the world today?

AB: No. He can’t travel at all. He cannot leave France.

JW: Returning to his career. Why did “Knife in the Water” not meet with success in Poland?

AB: At that time Poland was under a communist government which did not like the sexual freedom implied in the film which was against its ideology.

JW: Did Polanski ever experience guilt over remaining in London to complete “The Day of the Dolphin” script and not accompanying Sharon Tate on her trip home?

AB: He blames himself for not being in the house with Sharon. He believes that had he been there he would have been able to save everybody.

JW: Samantha Geimer, the victim of the rape, has been more critical of the media than with Polanski. Has there been any contact with her?

AB: They’ve written each other but there has been no more than that. I have never met her.

JW: Why was the judge, Laurence J Rittenband so determined to go after Roman Polanski? And for what reason is he described as having been corrupt?

AB:   He was corrupt in the sense that he had several girlfriends while being married and he loved the glitter and the glamour of Hollywood. He was a terrible gossip. I know this at first hand. He used to hold court at the Hillcrest Country Club where he lunched every day.  A friend of mine took me there. Rittenband sat at a long table  and I sat at that table. When he came in, everyone said ‘Hi Larry – so what’s new about the Polanski thing?’ and he would talk about it – he did that day I was thee – and bask in the glory of being the judge  of a celebrity case. I was totally shocked. I immediately called Roman’s lawyer to tell him what the judge was doing was illegal. He was very influenced by the winds of politics and how people viewed it. He was dismissed from the case by the D.A.’s office after Roman left America because of the preposterous reneging on the deal they had made. Roman went to prison, was released and then the judge announced he was going to send him back. Roman had done his time and had his passport. he was free to leave. I don’t think he was against Polanski. I think he was for himself. He would have seen it as good for his reputation  and for re-election.

JW: What is Polanski like on set?

AB: He is a perfectionist but everyone loves working with him even though he is so demanding. He has the same crew more or less from film to film. He pays great attention to detail, knows what he is doing and wants to see his vision of the film materialise. That’s what makes him a great director.

JW: Polanski says he would rather be judged for his work than for his private life. This is a film he obviously wants the world to see. Did he tell you why?

AB: So that people could see his story, told by him and not having a completely different meaning. Sometimes when you give a journalist a print interview you think you’ve said one thing but it turns out completely different. By releasing this film he knows that his story is there.

JW: Do you think that there is a possibility that one day he will return to the United States?

AB: No. I don’t think there will be a possibility. Even if there was, I don’t think he would go. It would be a mad media event and there would be nothing to gain.

JW: In the movie, Polanski describes his life of one of “ups and downs”. I see it more as being one of triumph over disaster. How do you see it?

AB: I see it in that direction. It’s a question of how high are the up and how low are the downs. Triumph and Disaster was a title I had been flirting with. I see it very much like that too,

Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir opens today. From the Holocaust to Hollywood and to a life In France.

Laurent Bouzereau is an award winning documentary writer, director and producer whose career started in 1994 with his first of many documentaries for Steven Spielberg.

Laurent Bouzereau has since then directed, written and produced hundreds of documentaries on the making of the biggest films in the history of cinema, by some of the most acclaimed directors of all-time, including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, William Friedkin, George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, Warren Beatty, and Roman Polanski.

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