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Venice 2023 review: 'The Palace' - Roman Polanski hands his detractors the perfect punchline

The Palace
The Palace Copyright Venice Film Festival
Copyright Venice Film Festival
By David Mouriquand
Published on
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In spite of the ongoing debate surrounding the inclusion of controversial directors at film festivals, Venice has decided to premiere Roman Polanski’s 'The Palace'. They should have thought twice, as it is comfortably the worst film Polanski has ever put his name to.

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Taking inspiration from his own stays at the Gstaad Palace in Switzerland, director Roman Polanski returns to the Lido after the success of 2019’s An Officer And A Spy with a comedy scripted by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, billed as a “absurd and provocative black comedy.”

It follows a panoply of ultra rich and pampered guests who arrive at the hotel ahead of a lavish New Year Party on the eve of 2000. Waiters, cooks and receptionists are all on full alert to cater to their every need – no matter how bizarre – and to distract the more paranoid clients who fear that the Millennium Bug may herald the end of the world.

Let’s cut to the chase, dear reader, as thinking about The Palace any longer than needed will send any sane person into a state of prolonged catatonia: This wannabe satire is about as relevant as polio, as provocative as a Carry On film to modern eyes, and as funny as running face first into a spinning propeller.

The excruciatingly bad film sees Polanski trying to channel some of that Ruben Östlund energy and falling flat on his arse. Even the poster looks like a Triangle of Sadness rip-off.

It’s genuinely hard to recall a movie that misses its mark as spectacularly as The Palace, which is hands down the director’s worst film.

And yes, that does mean that 1986’s Pirates is better.

Before the guests arrive at The Palace, the hotel’s dedicated manager Hansueli (Oliver Masucci) asks the following of his staff: “Politeness, precision, perfection.”

Let’s run them down.

Politeness.

Fail. Burping, defecation, blowjobs, weed smoking, an homage to Weekend At Bernie’s, and a dog humping an awfully rendered CGI penguin is apparently the pinnacle of comedy here.

Yes, there’s a penguin in the hotel. Don’t ask.

Precision.

Nul points. Consider the character rollcall of walking-talking archetypes: botoxed old Yanks looking like haunted Peperamis; typical Russian oligarchs with their usual entourage of bulky bodyguards and screaming bimbos; a dog-obsessed marquise (Fanny Ardant) who flies into a Dickensian hysteric every time her precious pup can’t successfully complete a bowel movement; multi-millionaire Arthur William Dallas III (John Cleese) and his soon-to-be-fortune-inheriting younger wife; and Mr. Crush (Mickey Rourke, looking AI-rendered) who is trying to financially profit from the Y2K hysteria... 

You can tell that rigour isn’t the order of the day.

It’s tired, loud, cheap looking, and profoundly vapid. There’s nothing here apart from a broad strokes approach to “Aren’t the rich decadent?” - a subgenre of films which has already had its moment last year following The Triangle of Sadness, The Menu, The Glass Onion and the runaway success of HBO's The White Lotus.

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Perfection.

The only thing deserving of that title is the fact that Lou Bega’s seminal 1999 hit 'Mambo No. 5' gets played at one point.

Whether you think that Polanski should continue to be endorsed as an artist in festivals following the 1973 charges for unlawful sex with a minor, or believe that art should be separated from the artist, there’s simply no excuse for such a mediocre film to exist in an otherwise impressive filmography. 

If The Palace happens to be the 90-year-old’s final film, he’s unwittingly handed his detractors the perfect punchline to cap off an already tarnished legacy. 

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The Palace premiered Out of Competition at the Venice Film Festival. Distribution agreements are set for Spain, Germany, Portugal, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Audiences can expect the film to be released later this year.

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