By VANESSA GERA
WARSAW, Poland — Roman Polanski was honored with a lifetime achievement award in the country of his childhood at the 19th annual European Film Awards. "It's a moving moment for me, of course, to receive this award, and particularly to receive it in Warsaw," the 73-year-old filmmaker said.
Polanski was given the award for creating what the academy said "were some of the most unforgettable moments in cinema" with films such as "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown" and "The Pianist." He won a best director Oscar for 2002's "The Pianist."
Though Polanski was forced into the Krakow ghetto under the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II and lost his mother in Auschwitz, he singled out only happy memories of Warsaw. In particular, he recalled his first-ever visit to the capital, when at age 14 he had the lead role in a Soviet play and received an award at a theater festival.
"Tonight arriving here I felt very happy and I realized that every time I come to this city I feel somehow elated," he said at Saturday's ceremony. "For some strange reason, only good things happen to me in this city."
"The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)," set in the former East Germany in 1984, won the best picture award. The film explores the ruthlessness of East Germany's all-pervasive secret police, the Stasi, through the story of a party loyalist trying to advance his career by collecting evidence on a playwright.
Ulrich Muehe won the best actor award for his role as the Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler. The best screenwriter award went to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who also directed the movie.
Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar won the best director award for "Volver," which explores the culture of death in La Mancha through three generations of strong women surviving without men.
"Going back to the little place I was from — La Mancha — that was a very important experience to me, not just a cinematic experience," Almodovar said.
He dedicated the award to Penelope Cruz and her co-stars who Almodovar said represented "the incredible women that surrounded me when I was a child."
Cruz, 32, won the best actress award and gave what was the most emotional acceptance speech of the evening.
"Pedro, I love you so much," Cruz said, fighting back tears. "Thank you for believing in me. You're changing not only my career, but a lot of things in my life."