''It seems that American motion pictures are made for smaller and smaller children every year,'' says Roman Polanski, for whom Death and the Maiden is the latest in a long, dark line of films (Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, Bitter Moon) that descend to emotional depths only adults MDASH] only some adults-= return from. ''Some (American movies) are extremely entertaining, some are real fun, but you can't just have fast food.''
No one who sees Death and the Maiden is likely to call it a Hollywood Happy Meal, but of course Polanski, 61, is no longer a creature of Hollywood and has never been susceptible to its formulas. Since he fled the U.S. in 1978 to avoid sentencing, having pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, the director has pursued his fascination with women as both victims and victimizers. Of Maiden star Sigourney Weaver's performance, he says, ''It was tough for her because she was doing it with her guts, and if you do that it always stays with you for the night.''
For his part, Maiden was less difficult, ''as the director has a more clinical approach to the work.'' Filming in a studio near Paris, Polanski could go home to his wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, 28, and their daughter, Morgane, who turned 2 in January. ''I now understand these playboy friends of mine who used to live in discotheques and then became fathers and started whipping out photos of babies from their wallets.
''I wanted a little girl,'' he continues. ''Actually, I would like to have both, but somehow a girl is more moving.'' For the man who survived as a child by hiding from the Nazis occupying Poland, and who survived the 1969 murder of his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, at the hands of Charles Manson's followers, every step in Morgane's development seems a revelation. ''Every day you discover a new thing. For example, I didn't know that babies sighed.''
Now that he's done with Death and the Maiden, it may finally be time to please a small child. ''I wouldn't mind making a comedy right now,'' he muses. ''If I had a good script for one, I would jump on it.''