There was a time, not so long ago, when Roman Polanski was the toast of the film industry in France, where the director has been living since 1978, when he fled the United States before sentencing after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Despite the scandal and ongoing legal issues, the veteran auteur has flourished as a filmmaker in his adopted country, celebrated as a lifelong member of France’s illustrious Academie des Beaux Arts (Academy of Fine Arts) and showered with a half-dozen César Awards, the latest three of which, including best director, are for his 2019 drama “An Officer and a Spy.”
But things are changing. The director’s latest César win, combined with more recent allegations of sexual misconduct, sparked outrage from French feminist groups and led to the 21-member board of the organization that oversees the Césars to resign en masse. Polanski has denied the more recent misconduct allegations.
Even as the blowback intensified, “Officer and a Spy” became a massive hit in France, where it grossed more than $11 million.
But now the amour for Roman seems to have stopped. The French haven’t rejected Polanski in the same way that the U.S. has shunned him, but the relationship is souring. Polanski declined to be interviewed by Variety for this article.
Polanski’s upcoming film “The Palace,” a black comedy that takes place at a posh hotel in the Swiss Alps resort of Gstaad, where he is currently shooting, has been unable to find any French financing, as Polanski’s producer, Italian multi-hyphenate Luca Barbareschi, bemoans.
“[To shepherd ‘The Palace’] you need lots of passion and lots of patience,” said Barbareschi speaking from Gstaad, where “The Palace” –– which he says has a €17 million Euro ($17.8 million) budget –– has been shooting for 15 weeks, with two more to go (see photos from the set in this post).
Barbareschi, who also produced “Officer and a Spy,” says it’s been tough to finance the “Palace” which is an Italian, Swiss and Polish co-production between his Eliseo Multimedia and RAI Cinema, Poland’s Lucky BOB and Switzerland’s CAB. Some other investors disappeared after the film started shooting.
But he didn’t expect France to shut Polanski out, and still hopes the French industry will embrace the film.
“I managed to mount the production over the course of a year without France since France didn’t want to invest a Euro on Polanski,” Barbareschi says. “This really wounded me.”
The producer adds, “If this film doesn’t get released in France, it’s a crime.”
Besides France, Barbareschi – who personally invested more than €4 million in “The Palace” that he needs to recoup – is also concerned that Polanski’s latest pic may get shut out elsewhere. Especially in English-speaking territories such as the U.K., North America and Australia, all of which passed on releasing “Officer” in their movie theaters.
“If you consider that ‘An Officer and a Spy’ hasn’t played in any English-speaking country, this scares me,” he notes.
Paris-based Wild Bunch, which is selling “The Palace,” is showing a four-minute trailer to buyers in Cannes. They have already closed deals with unspecified distributors in Germany and Spain. Now they need to close more.
“The Palace” features an ensemble cast comprising German actor Oliver Masucci (“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”); French star Fanny Ardant; Mikey Rourke; Monty Python star John Cleese; Portugal’s Joaquin De Almeida; Russia’s Alexander Petrov, and Fortunato Cerlino (”Gomorrah”).
The film, which is penned by Polanski and Polish writer/director Jerzy Skolimowski (who has “EO” at the festival but didn’t attend), is set entirely in Gstaad’s Palace Hotel on New Year’s Eve on the eve of the new millennium and takes place in less than 24 hours.
Similarly to its financing, “The Palace” has also been tough to cast. Several actors declined roles, fearing that working with Polanski would tarnish their careers, though “nobody said it in those terms,” says Barbareschi, who underlines that he’s pleased with the cast that he has.
“Every film has its karma. In the end we have the best cast I could have hoped for,” he says. Though “some defections haven’t been easy for Roman,” especially by actors in smaller roles.
More importantly, “They all adore Roman, and are giving him everything they’ve got,” he notes.
Key below-the-line crew on “The Palace” comprises Oscar-winning music composer Alexandre Desplat, along with Polanski’s regular cinematographer Pawel Edelman, editor Hervé de Luze, and costume designer Carlo Poggioli (“The Young Pope”).
As for the film’s plot, the palatial hotel that is the apex of Alpine luxury, has “always been a refuge for the most privileged strata of society: aristocracy, artists and celebrities, entrepreneurs and financiers, hustlers, swindlers and wannabes,” Polanski says in his director’s notes.
And now it is hosting the grandest New Year’s Eve ball in history.
The film is described 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 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?”
The rollout plan for “The Palace” is for a theatrical release across Europe in November.
But we’ll have to wait to see how big of an audience shows up.