Insults greet Polanski's return to film

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THIRTY YEARS after Rosemary's Baby, and the murder of his wife by Charles Manson's gang of satanic hippies, Roman Polanski has made a movie about the devil. The film, La Neuvieme Porte (The Ninth Gate) - Polanski's first work for five years - premiered in France this week to a critical reception ranging from the frostily polite to the insulting.

Liberation said the film would become a "classic" - but added, "a byword in the cinematic history of insane shit and utter rubbish". Le Parisien said it was a "successful, disturbing thriller" in the form of a "macabre game". Polanski, 66, describes the movie as "Hitchcockian".

All critics agree that the best thing about the film is the performance of Johnny Depp as an antiquarian book dealer, hired to track down satanic books on behalf of a wealthy client. The movie was made with French money, shot partly on location in France and Spain, but acted in English. Polanski has refused to return to America since fleeing California in 1977, after being accused of having sex with an under-age girl.

The comic fantasy thriller is the first time Polanski has used the subject of the devil since 1969, when he made Rosemary's Baby about a woman impregnated by Satan. Later the same year Polanski's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson's "family" of devil-worshipping hippies.

In the new film, the devil isa beautiful, and occasionally naked, young woman - played by Polanski's present wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, who gave birth to their second child, Elvis Polanski, just before the movie was made. The parallels have been too close for some critics, especially since Polanski treats the whole subject of devil- worship as a kind of farcical parody of a Tintin or Indiana Jones adventure story.

Le Monde said the final scene was a "perfectly ridiculous black mass in which the participants turn into devotees of Satan in the way that children play at being cowboys and Indians", and that Depp's character was always a step behind the audience in understanding the absurdly obvious twists of the plot.

Polanski told Figaro: "For me the devil is a total fiction... which allows us to shrug off our own responsibility for evil." To Liberation, he said: "When I pick a theme for a movie, I don't think. I go for whatever grabs me at that moment. The same is true for everything else. Food. Women."

Of his exile from the United States, he said: "[America] destroyed me but now it's destroying itself, with its own puritanism. It reminds me of a painting of Dali's - The Virgin sodomised by her own chastity."