Although its inclusion in Venice’s competition has stirred some controversy, Roman Polanski’s “An Officer and a Spy” has lured buyers in several key markets ahead of its world premiere on Friday.
Since unveiling the film’s first footage at Cannes, Paris-based sales company Playtime has pre-sold it to Japan (Longride); Spain (Caramel Films); Greece (Odeon); Portugal (Midas Filmes); Israel (United King Films); Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland (Future Film); Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and CIS (Top Film); Poland (Gutek Film); and former Yugoslavia (Fivia). Playtime is in negotiations to close several more deals in major markets.
“An Officer and a Spy” is France’s biggest-budgeted film slated for theaters this year. Gaumont will release the film Nov. 13. The €25.5 million ($28 million) historical espionage thriller is based on Robert Harris’ novel and headlined by Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) and Mathieu Amalric (“At Eternity’s Gate”).
The movie tells the true story of counterespionage officer Georges Picquart, who defied orders and embarked on a compromising mission to clear the name of Captain 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. Drawn into a dangerous labyrinth of deceit and corruption, Picquart eventually succeeded in getting Dreyfus exonerated of any wrongdoing years later. The Dreyfus Affair has long been an obsession for Polanski, who has tried to tell the story at various points in his career.
“Polanski is one of the major directors of his generation, and like ‘The Pianist,’ ‘An Officer and a Spy’ is an important film that’s both personal and accessible to large audience,” said Nicolas Brigaud-Robert of Playtime.
The inclusion of “An Officer and a Spy” has been criticized by some because in 1978, Polanski fled the U.S. while awaiting final sentencing after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
Although Polanski isn’t expected to turn up at the gala screening in Venice, he gave an extensive and quite candid interview to French novelist Pascal Bruckner. In the interview, published in the press notes of the movie, Polanski said the film, which took seven years to make, was highly personal. “I sometimes find moments I have experienced myself, I can see the same determination to deny the facts and condemn me for things I have not done. Most of the people who harass me do not know me and know nothing about the case.”
Polanski also said the film was timely because it talks about anti-Semitism. “Big stories often make great films, and the Dreyfus Affair is an exceptional story,” he said. “The story of a man unfairly accused is always fascinating, but it is also very much a current issue, given the upsurge in anti-Semitism.”
Produced by Alain Goldman (“La Vie en Rose”) at Legende Films, in co-production with Casanova Multimedia and Rai Cinema, the film also stars Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Louis Garrel.