Roman Polanski’s “The Palace” has been set for release in Italian theatres in September, prompting speculation that the controversial director’s black comedy set in a posh hotel in the Swiss Alps resort of Gstaad on the eve of the new millennium could be launching from the Venice Film Festival.
Italy’s RAI Cinema, which is a main backer of Polanski’s new film, has slated a September 28 local release date via its 01 Distribuzione unit for “The Palace,” which has an ensemble cast including Mickey Rourke, John Cleese and Fanny Ardant. Other key cast members include German actor Oliver Masucci (“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”); Portugal’s Joaquin De Almeida; the U.K.’s Bronwyn James (“The Dig”) and Italy’s Fortunato Cerlino (”Gomorrah”).
Besides announcing the release date, production company Eliseo Entertainment and RAI Cinema have also issued a dippy decadent poster featuring actress Lilia Zahner – who in “The Palace” plays the wife of a Russian ambassador – with her crowned head in a plate of lentils.
“It’s December 31, 1999 and the luxurious The Palace Hotel is preparing for the most anticipated New Year ever. Millionaire guests from all over the world prepare to enter the New Millennium, amidst quirks, vices and extravagance. Roman Polanski gives us an absurd, black and provocative comedy,” read the film’s promotional materials.
According to well-placed sources, “The Palace” has been submitted to Venice, which runs Aug. 30-Sept. 9. But the festival’s selection committee has not seen the film yet. That said, Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera is not averse to launching Polanski’s latest, if it’s good.
Producer Luca Barbareschi, who heads Eliseo Entertainment, declined to be interviewed for this article. There was no comment from RAI Cinema and the Venice Film Festival.
Polanski, who will turn 90 in August, fled the U.S. in 1978 after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. He was leading his life in France for decades until he came back into the global spotlight in 2019 with the Lido premiere of “An Officer and a Spy” and scooped the Grand Jury Prize.
Shortly after the Venice bow of “Officer and a Spy,” 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, in 2020, 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.
Haenel last May lashed out against the Cannes Film Festival and other French film industry institutions, saying they were “ready to do anything to defend their rapist chiefs.” Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux, who has rejected her criticisms, told that “The Palace” was not ready in time to be submitted for Cannes.
Certainly Polanski is less of a hot-button issue in Italy than he is in France, where no financier, producer or broadcaster has dared touch “The Palace.” The film has a $17 million budget. French sales company Goodfellas, formerly known as Wild Bunch, is handling international sales. None have surfaced yet.
“The Palace” certainly boasts festival pedigree. It’s co-written by Oscar-winning Polish writer-director Jerzy Skolimowski, whose “EO” premiered in Cannes last year and was nominated for an Oscar, and scored by Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat.
Besides Desplat, other top-notch below-the-line crew members on “The Palace” include Polanski’s regular cinematographer Pawel Edelman, editor Hervé de Luze and costume designer Carlo Poggioli (“The Young Pope”).
The film has been described by Polanski in his director’s notes 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 to buyers 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?”
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, Switzerland’s CAB Productions, and Belgium’s AgentDouble.
Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report