Roman Polanski’s black comedy “The Palace” was given a tepid three-minutes of applause when it world premiered in the Palazzo del Cinema’s Sala Grande on Saturday night.
Producer Luca Barbareschi, French star Fanny Ardant and other key cast members including German actor Oliver Masucci (“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”), Portugal’s Joaquim de Almeida and Italy’s Fortunato Cerlino (”Gomorrah”) stood up and took a bow, but the audience’s response seemed to be more polite than exited, though there were occasional bursts of laughter during the screening.
Before the film’s premiere “The Palace” set designer Tonino Zera received Venice’s Campari Passion for Film prize from artistic director Alberto Barbera.
Polanski directed the black comedy from a screenplay he wrote alongside Jerzy Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska. “The Palace” takes place during New Year’s Eve in 1999, when a dinner party at Switzerland’s Gstaad Palace hotel takes an unexpected turn. The cast includes Oliver Masucci, Fanny Ardant, John Cleese, Bronwyn James, Joaquim de Almeida, Luca Barbareschi, Milan Peschel, Fortunato Cerlino, Mickey Rourke, Alexander Petrov, Viktor Dobronravov Irina Kastrinidis, Olga Kent, Naike Anna Silipo, Matthew T. Reynolds, Teco Celio, Marina Strakhova, Michelle Shapa, Danylo Kotov and Davide Gagliardi.
Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote of the film, “When I saw ‘The Palace,’ Roman Polanski’s garish debacle of an ensemble comedy, I was sitting in the Sala Darsena, which seats 1400 (and was full), and on the rare occasion when a line in the movie got laughs, it was literally coming from about six people. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a giant theater this deadly silent for a movie that’s working this strenuously to amuse you.”
Polanski has a history at Venice, having premiered his film “Carnage,” starring Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster, at the festival in 2011, as well as 2019’s “An Officer and a Spy.”
His return to the festival this year has been cause for controversy, as he has faced several sexual assault allegations over the course of his career. He was originally arrested in 1977 in Los Angeles for allegedly assaulting 13-year-old Samantha Gailey. He entered a plea bargain and plead guilty to one charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and was sentenced to 90 days of psychiatric evaluation at California prison. He was then released after 42 days and put on probation. Gailey later sued Polanski in 1988 and he eventually settled the suit in the ’90s. He was then arrested again in 2009 in Switzerland at the United States’ request, but ultimately the attempt to extradite him for a trial was unsuccessful. In 2018, Polanski was removed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. However, in March of this year, Gailey stated in an interview with Polanski and his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, that she has forgiven him and “anyone who thinks that he deserves to be in prison is wrong.”
When asked why he had booked one of Polanski’s films on the lineup this year, Venice Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera said in an interview with Variety: “It’s been 60 years. Polanski has admitted his responsibility. He’s asked to be forgiven. He’s been forgiven by the victim. The victim has asked for the issue to be put to rest. I think that to keep beating on Polanski means seeking a scapegoat for other situations that would deserve more attention.”
Earlier on Saturday, during the film’s press conference, producer Luca Barbareschi expressed his support for the director by shouting “Viva Polanski!” as it came to a close.
“I don’t understand why all the platforms: Paramount+, Amazon, Netflix, have Polanski’s [older movies] that are making millions for them,” he said. “Why won’t they produce Polanski’s new movie?”
“The Palace” will premiere in theaters in Italy on Sept. 28.