More than four decades in the making, there is now evidence that 88-year-old Roman Polanski’s past is catching up with him in a place he always seemed secure: the French film industry.
France has been a physical and creative sanctuary for the controversial film director. The Polish-born creator of Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown has been living there since 1978, when he fled the United States before receiving a sentence after pleading guilty to the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. In the intervening years, though technically in exile, he has continued to work with Hollywood A-listers (stroll through the IMDb, you might be surprised at some of the projects you haven’t thought about for a while), and his films Tess and The Pianist have won Academy Awards.
Despite ongoing legal issues, like a house arrest in Switzerland in 2009 and additional accusations of sexual abuse in 2010 (then more in 2017 and 2019, totaling five), Polanski’s work was still easily produced and well-received in France. (Polanski denied all the claims and even threatened to sue the most recent accuser, the first from a French woman.)
But after the #MeToo movement shone a light on sexual harassment and criminal activity in the film industry, Polanski (and Bill Cosby) were expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in May 2018, which the director is still fighting. (Harvey Weinstein had already been dismissed some months before.) However, his 2019 film, An Officer and a Spy, which has never been released in the United States, still did good business and won him the César for Best Director. (It had 12 nominations in total.)
Polanski’s win caused quite a stir at the ceremony that year, especially when director Céline Sciamma and actress Adèle Haenel stormed out in disgust. (“Bravo la pédophilie!” Haenel reportedly shouted as she exited.) Protestors outside the ceremony clashed with police, tear gas was fired, and the entire 21-member board that ran the awards quit.
That may, indeed, have been a tipping point. As reported in Variety on Saturday, Polanski’s newest, The Palace, has been unable to secure any French financing. Producer Luca Barbareschi “bemoaned” his struggles to the entertainment outlet, which has been shooting for 15 weeks in Switzerland on a $15.8 million budget patched together from Italian, Polish, and Swiss sources. (Some investors “disappeared after the film started shooting,” according to the report.) “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,” he said.
Barbareschi expressed surprise at being shut out by France, and hopes the industry will still embrace the finished film. “If this film doesn’t get released in France, it’s a crime,” he added.
He’s “scared ” that the same territories that passed on An Officer and a Spy (specifically North America, the U.K., and Australia) will do the same with The Palace. Barbareschi, who personally sank €4 million into the new project, probably should have thought of this before signing the check, but he didn’t ask me.
The forthcoming film stars Mickey Rourke, Fanny Ardant, Oliver Masucci, and John Cleese. It is set in the ski town of Gstaad, Switzerland at the Palace Hotel. (As it happens, Gstaad is where two of Polanski’s accusers say their assaults occurred, one when she was 15, the other when she was 18.)
The Palace Hotel’s castle-like resort, over a century old, has served as a haven for A-listers for decades, including Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich, Princess Diana, Elton John, Sophia Loren, Quentin Tarantino, Anne Hathaway, and many others. Michael Jackson liked the hotel so much that he offered to purchase it.