Since premiering his last film “An Officer and a Spy” in competition at Venice in 2019, Roman Polanski has fallen from grace in France. But he’s now back with a new movie called “The Palace” that could make a surprise splash on the festival circuit.
Polanski, who fled the U.S. in 1978 after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, was leading a pleasant life in France for decades until he came back into the global spotlight with the Lido premiere of “An Officer and a Spy” and scooped the Grand Jury Prize.
Shortly after the movie’s Venice bow, Polanski faced new allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies. When he went on to win best director at France’s Cesar Awards, the country’s equivalent of the Oscars, industry outcry prompted a complete overhaul of the leadership of the awards org. 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.
But while no French financier, producer or broadcaster has dared touch “The Palace,” Polanski may not have been “canceled” on the festival circuit. His black comedy “The Palace” — which is set in a posh hotel in the Swiss Alps resort of Gstaad and stars Mickey Rourke, John Cleese and Fanny Ardant — is being considered by both the Cannes and Venice selection committees, Variety has learned.
However, the film, which is backed by Italy’s RAI Cinema, is also slated for an April 6 theatrical release in Italy (via RAI’s 01 Distribuzione unit). This, in theory, would make a Cannes bow improbable and rules out Venice. Several Italian exhibitors have confirmed they are expecting to release the film on April 6.
But RAI Cinema chief Paolo Del Brocco told Variety that the Italian release for the $17 million “Palace” “is not cast in stone.” He also didn’t rule out a Cannes premiere for the film, which is now in post.
The April 6 Italian release date for “Palace” is not incompatible with a Cannes bow. Italian auteur Nanni Moretti’s films regularly launch from Cannes after being released in Italy. However, in order to go to Venice, the Polanski film’s Italian release date would need to be changed.
Producer Luca Barbareschi, who also produced “Officer and a Spy,” has mounted Polanski’s latest work as a co-production between his Eliseo Multimedia banner and RAI Cinema, Poland’s Lucky Bob, France’s Rp Productions and Belgium’s AgentDouble. Barbareschi was not available for comment on whether the film was submitted to Cannes or Venice, and whether its current Italian release date indicates the film will skip a major festival premiere.
So far, only Italy has set a distribution date for “The Palace.” Wild Bunch International, which typically represents multiple films in competition at both Cannes and Venice (“Titane,” “Happening” and “Saint-Omer”), is selling “The Palace” and will likely find buyers outside of the U.S. Even in France, where no broadcasters or other co-producers came on board to finance the film, it will almost certainly find distribution. Barbareschi in May said the film has been sold to unspecified distributors in Germany and Spain.
Polanski, who is now 89 years old, has been a fixture of the festival circuit for ages. His last five features have premiered from either Cannes (“Based on a True Story,” “Venus in Fur”); Venice (“An Officer and a Spy,” “Carnage”); or Berlin (“The Ghost Writer”). But the tide has turned and it remains to be seen whether an internationally driven festival like Cannes or Venice will risk alienating other talent and the media by programming one of Polanski’s films.
The director’s inclusion in the main Venice competition in 2019 sparked fury from feminists and caused jury president Lucrecia Martel to say she was “uncomfortable” about it, even though in the end “Officer and a Spy” walked away with a prize.
“Imagine the context: the Oscars are once again ‘So White,’ the Cesars are once again ‘So Male,’ and now you are going to invite Polanski’s film to your festival?” said one veteran festival circuit executive who declined to be quoted by name.
“As a festival director, why should I give the press the possibility of massacring me?” the exec opined. “Not even [Cannes festival chief] Thierry Fremaux can afford this.”
But aside from Polanski’s highly problematic profile, “The Palace” certainly boasts festival pedigree. It’s co-written by Oscar-winning Polish writer-director Jerzy Skolimowski, whose recent Cannes-premiering film “EO” is now Oscar-nominated, and scored by Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat.
Desplat told Variety that he recorded the film’s “light and classy” music in the fall and is now looking forward to “seeing the film mixed.”
Besides Desplat, other top-notch below-the-line crew members on “The Palace” comprise Polanski’s regular cinematographer Pawel Edelman, editor Hervé de Luze and costume designer Carlo Poggioli (“The Young Pope”).
“The Palace” features an ensemble cast comprising German actor Oliver Masucci; French star Fanny Ardant; Mickey Rourke; “Monty Python” star John Cleese; Portugal’s Joaquin De Almeida; Russia’s Alexander Petrov; and Fortunato Cerlino.
The dark comedy has been described by an insider as being in the veins of Polanski’s “Dance of the Vampires.” It’s set entirely in a high-end hotel in Gstaad on the eve of the new millennium, and takes place over the course of 24 hours. It’s also been pitched in materials for buyers as a provocative 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 Cannes and Venice film festivals declined to comment on this story.