He’s been expelled from the Academy, and his last film, “Based on a True Story,” flopped at the box office. But the recent announcement of Roman Polanski’s new movie offers proof that, even after the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the birth of the #MeToo movement, the controversial director can still muster support – at least, in places where #MeToo has been slow to take hold.
The Oscar-winning director, who pleaded guilty to having sex with a minor in 1977 and has been a fugitive of U.S. justice ever since, has managed to raise about €22 million ($25.3 million) for his long-gestating passion project, “J’Accuse,” from backers in France and Italy – two countries where #MeToo has been heavily criticized. (Polanski himself has called the movement “collective hysteria.”) “J’Accuse” now ranks among the biggest-budgeted local movies slated for either 2019 or 2020 in either territory.
Polanski has been able to recruit well-established players and talent for the film, such as Oscar-winning French actor Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”). Alain Goldman’s Legende, whose credits include Marion Cotillard starrer “La Vie en Rose,” is producing, with Gaumont co-producing and set to distribute in France.
On the Italian side, Rai Cinema and Luca Barbareschi’s Eliseo Cinema are co-producing. Barbareschi is an actor-turned-producer who made headlines earlier this year for his harsh comments about the #MeToo movement and Asia Argento, with whom he had a public clash on social media.
An under-the-radar Russian company is also involved in financing the film, according to a source close to the project.
Moreover, “J’Accuse” has accomplished the rare feat of being pre-bought by nearly every major French channel: France 2 and France 3 from the public broadcasting group France Televisions, plus the country’s two big pay-TV channels, Canal Plus and OCS.
Polanski is a dual French and Polish citizen, and he and his work largely continue to be embraced in France. But he has received criticism there as well: Last year, protests from women’s groups led to his resignation from the honorary presidency of the Cesar Awards.
Since it was unveiled last week, “J’Accuse” has also generated some criticism, not just of Polanski and his past, but also of the fact that the movie’s topic – a notorious real-life miscarriage of justice known as the Dreyfus Affair – seems to reflect Polanski’s own perception that he has been unfairly treated by the media and in the court of public opinion.
Based on author Robert Harris’ novel “An Officer and a Spy” “J’Accuse” is a historical espionage thriller charting the true story of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish soldier who was accused of spying for Germany and imprisoned on Devil’s Island in the 1890s before being exonerated of any wrongdoing years later. The movie’s title refers to the 1898 open letter written by novelist Emile Zola accusing the French government of anti-Semitism. “J’Accuse” reteams Polanski with Robert Harris, who co-penned “The Ghost Writer.”
Polanski initially developed “J’Accuse” as an English-language project with his regular producers, Alain Sarde and Robert Benmussa. It was then taken over by Goldman, who had Polanski turn it into a French-language film in order to finance it more easily. Goldman moved fairly fast to assemble the financing. On top of having a successful relationship with Gaumont, Goldman also boasts a track record with historical dramas dealing with anti-Semitism, having produced “The Round Up,” about the 1942 French police operation ordered by the Vichy government, which led to the deaths of more than 13,000 Jews, and most recently “The Man with the Iron Heart” (also known as “HHHH”), about the high-ranking Nazi officer Reinhard Heydrich, who was considered to be the mastermind of Hitler’s genocidal Final Solution.
In spite of being financed, the film doesn’t yet have an international sales agent. Gaumont put up a significant minimum guarantee to acquire French distribution but wasn’t willing to double the investment for the sales rights, considering the possible riskiness of the project. Orange Studio also considered adding “J’Accuse” to its sales slate but gave up because of the big price tag set by Goldman and the fact that the movie will be a tough sell, especially in the U.S. and U.K. markets, where it has only a slim chance of getting picked up.
Polanski’s last film, “Based on a True Story,” was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics in partnership with Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment. That movie world-premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year. But no U.S. buyer has stepped forward for “J’Accuse.”