The controversial director Roman Polanski is hardly in the public eye in the US, where prosecutors could seek to charge him with being a fugitive from justice if he were to return, but he is one of the foremost and celebrated directors in France and Poland. With five Cesars, (the French equivalent of the Oscar) he holds the record for the most wins by a single director. His wins were for Tess, The Pianist, The Ghost Writer, Venus in Fur and in 2020, for An Officer and a Spy (J’accuse).
His latest film, “The Palace” has been set for release in Italian theatres in September, prompting speculation that the controversial director’s black comedy, set in a posh hotel in the Swiss Alps resort of Gstaad on the eve of the new millennium, could be launching from the Venice Film Festival.
Italy’s RAI Cinema, which is one of the main external backers of Polanski’s new film, has slated a September 28 local release date via its 01 Distribuzione unit for “The Palace” which has an ensemble cast including Mickey Rourke, John Cleese and Fanny Ardant. Other key cast members include German actor Oliver Masucci (“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”); Portugal’s Joaquin De Almeida; the U.K.’s Bronwyn James (“The Dig”) and Italy’s Fortunato Cerlino (”Gomorrah”).
“It’s December 31, 1999 and the luxurious The Palace Hotel is preparing for the most anticipated New Year ever. Millionaire guests from all over the world prepare to enter the New Millennium, amidst quirks, vices and extravagance. Roman Polanski gives us an absurd, black and provocative comedy,” read the film’s promotional materials.
The film has been described by Polanski in his director’s notes as “a comedy showing the naivety, hedonism, corruption and social inequity which lie at the root of the world’s current problems.” The narrative “interweaves multiple storylines, spanning the entire social spectrum,” the notes point out. “The Palace” is being pitched to buyers as “above all, a provocative comedy – bitter at times, frivolous and eccentric at others, which will leave the viewer with a lingering question: what went wrong?”
According to well-placed sources, “The Palace” has been submitted to Venice, which runs Aug. 30-Sept. 9. But the festival’s selection committee has not seen the film yet. That said, Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera is not averse to launching Polanski’s latest, if it’s good.
Producer Luca Barbareschi, who heads Eliseo Entertainment and has invested substantially in “The Palace,” declined to be interviewed. There was no comment from RAI Cinema and the Venice Film Festival.
Polanski, who will turn 90 in August, fled the U.S. in 1978 after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. He was leading his life in France for decades until he came back into the global spotlight in 2019 with the Lido premiere of “An Officer and a Spy” and scooped the Grand Jury Prize.
Shortly after the Venice premiere of “An Officer and a Spy,” Polanski faced new allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies. When he went on to win best director at France’s Cesar Awards in 2020, industry outcry prompted a complete overhaul of the leadership of the awards organization.
The scandal sparked the birth of France’s own #MeToo movement, spearheaded by French actor Adele Haenel, the star of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” who walked out of the Cesar ceremony upon hearing Polanski’s name. Indignant at the honor being bestowed on the director, Haenel called Cannes, where the film had been launched, “the festival of rapists.”
One of France’s top actors, Haenel announced she was quitting the French film industry, denouncing it for “complacency toward sexual aggressors.” Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Fremaux rejected her criticisms while addressing members of the media.
The previous May Haenel had lashed out against the Cannes Film Festival and other French film industry institutions saying they were “ready to do anything to defend their rapist chiefs.”
“The Palace” had originally been slated for release at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but Thierry Fremaux, who has staunchly and persistently rejected Haenel’s criticisms, said that the film was not ready in time to be submitted for Cannes. Now it may be launched from the Venice Film Festival.
Polanski is less of a hot-button issue in Italy than he is in France, where no financier, producer or broadcaster has dared touch “The Palace.” The film has a $17 million budget. French sales company Goodfellas, formerly known as Wild Bunch, is handling international sales. None have surfaced yet.