Roman Polanski’s “An Officer and a Spy” has been sparking debate on the Lido since it was announced that it would premiere at the Venice Film Festival. But the movie’s press conference Friday was remarkably drama-free, perhaps in part because Polanski himself, as expected, did not attend.
The film’s producers, including France’s Alain Goldman and Italy’s Luca Barbareschi, and key cast members Jean Dujardin, Louis Garrel and Emmanuelle Seigner received a hearty ovation at the presser Friday afternoon, ahead of the movie’s evening premiere. Barbareschi, who had said he considered pulling the film out of the festival if jury president Lucrecia Martel didn’t clarify her comment that she would “not congratulate” Polanski, seemed placid, if not philosophical. Asked if he feared Martel’s stance could cause prejudice against “An Officer and a Spy” within the jury, Barbareschi said: “The past is the past. We need to focus on the present. The film must be able to speak for itself, and the public will judge.”
“An Officer and a Spy” re-tells France’s infamous Dreyfus Affair, a real-life case of anti-Semitism in the French military that has fascinated the director for years. Counterespionage officer Georges Picquart defied orders and embarked on a daunting and professionally perilous mission to clear the name of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a promising French-Jewish officer who was unfairly accused of spying for Germany and imprisoned on Devil’s Island in the late 1890s.
“An Officer and a Spy,” which plays in competition, has been getting fairly solid word of mouth following its press screenings earlier Friday. Seigner said the film marked her sixth with Polanski, to whom she has been married for 30 years. Asked why she thought her husband was so obsessed with the theme of persecution in the film, Seigner said “it was simple to understand….Just look at his life.”
Polanski was convicted in 1978 of having sex with a minor in California but fled the U.S. before his final sentencing. Last year, the Academy expelled the Oscar-winning director of “Rosemary’s Baby” from its ranks.
Goldman said he faced many complications making the film but that “often, the more difficult it gets, the more motivated we are to thrive,” and added that making the film in French rather than English unlocked many difficulties. “More than ever before, we don’t need films to be made in English at all costs and especially not when striving to make a film singular, yet universal and specific,” said Goldman, whose credits include “La vie en rose,” which earned its star Marion Cotillard an Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf.
Goldman also addressed the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, which is one of the film’s central themes. “Cinema is one of the ways to counter ignorance, which is probably at the roots of what happened through the 20th century…including the Holocaust,” he said. He called Picquart an exceptional man who could give a lot of hope for the generations to come and inspire them to strive for justice and truth.
Dujardin, who is in nearly every shot of the film, said he was amazed by Polanski’s directing method. “Every scene was meticulously arranged. Sometimes it would take up to two hours to set up so every detail would be reconstructed,” said Dujardin.
“Everything in the film is true, all the details are true and that’s what really inspired me,” said Garrel, who plays Dreyfus. “This is the full story of the Dreyfus case, which many people think they know everything about without really knowing.”
“An Officer and a Spy” was produced by Goldman (“La Vie en Rose”) at Legende Films, in co-production with Casanova Multimedia and Rai Cinema. Playtime is representing the film in international markets and has already pre-sold it in several markets. Gaumont will release the movie in France on Nov. 13.