Andrzej Zulawski was born in Lwow, at the time part of Poland and the U.S.S.R., to a Polish family with remarkable traditions in arts and literature. After World War II, his father's diplomatic career brought the family to France (1945-1949), Czechoslovakia (1949-1952), and finally to Poland. He studied film direction at IDHEC in Paris (1957-1959) and philosophy at both Warsaw University (1961) and Université de Paris (1962-1964).
First, he assisted the famous Polish director Andrzej Wajda during the filming of Samson (1961), Popioly (1966), and the Warsaw episode of L'Amour à Vingt Ans (1962). In 1967, Zulawski directed two short films, Piesn triumfujacej milosci and Pavoncello, for Polish TV. His feature debut, Trzecia Czesc Nocy (1971), as well as those previous films were co-scripted by his father, poet Miroslaw Zulawski. The picture was well received at the Venice Film Festival and awarded as the Best Debut in its homeland, but had only limited release due to Polish censorship. Zulawski's next feature, Diabel (1972), was outright banned and not released until 1988. The same happened to his next Polish project, Na Srebrnym Globie (1977). After he finished about 80 percent of the shooting, the authorities ordered him to abandon the picture and to destroy all related materials. Only in 1987 did he manage to complete the film from spare footage, using voice-over commentary for the missing parts.
Since the late '70s, Zulawski lived and worked mostly in France, during which time he developed a knack for showcasing his actresses' talents. L'Important c'est d'aimer (1975) brought its star, Romy Schneider, a Cesar (French Oscar) as did Possession (1981) to Isabelle Adjani. He then found his muse in young actress Sophie Marceau who would star in four of his films. In 1996, he briefly returned to Poland where he made Szamanka. His last film, Cosmos (2015), was his first film in 15 years and won him Best Direction at the Locarno International Film Festival.
Being a maverick who always defied mainstream commercialism, Zulawski enjoyed success mostly with the European art-house audiences. His wild, imaginative, and controversial pictures have received 16 awards at various international film festivals. He also wrote the novels Il était un verger, Lity bór (aka La Forêt Forteresse), V oczach tygrysa, and Ogród milosci. Zulawski died in 2016, at age 75.