Here’s why you need to stay away from Roman Polanski’s ‘The Palace’

Here’s why you need to stay away from Roman Polanski’s ‘The Palace’
Here’s why you need to stay away from Roman Polanski’s ‘The Palace’ Copyright Venice Film Festival - 01 Distribution
By David Mouriquand
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The 90-year-old's most recent film ‘The Palace’ has finally secured French distribution. Here’s why you should avoid it at all costs.

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It’s happening... And this is a pre-emptive warning.

Seven months after its Out of Competition world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Roman Polanski’s latest film The Palace has been acquired by a French distribution company – with a release date set for 15 May.

"No one wanted the film," said Sébastien Tiveyrat, head of Swashbuckler Films, which specialises in heritage films.

"I'm only interested in cinema, not anything else,” added Tiveyrat, who admitted to Variety that he hasn’t even seen the film but is convinced it will be successful in France where Polanski’s films have traditionally over-performed. This includes his previous movie, the excellent An Officer and a Spy, which went on to earn 12 nominations at the César Awards in 2019 – including a Best Director win which ignited the first wave of #MeToo revelations in France.

The distributor now has to find cinemas willing to show the film, which was presented in the director's absence in Venice – but to the chorus of "Vergogna!" ("Shame!") and feminist collages plastered around the city, as the 90-year-old filmmaker has become a symbol of impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in the film industry.

“Roman Polanski is a great filmmaker", added Tiveyrat.

That’s as may be, but here comes the previously announced warning: The Palace is not the work of a great filmmaker. 

Granted, few filmmakers have a spotless filmography; however, it is no exaggeration to state that Polanski’s latest can’t even be qualified as “cinema”. It’s a visual root canal.

Poster for The Palace
Poster for The Palace01 Distribution - Swashbuckler Films

As a fan of Polanski’s films – Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist are flawless films, and I have a particular soft spot for The Ninth Gate and The Ghost Writer – I can comfortably say that it’s the worst film the Franco-Polish director has ever put his name to.

Take my word for it. I have suffered through this “absurd and provocative black comedy” so you don’t have to.

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, and to distract the more paranoid clients who fear that the Millennium Bug may herald the end of the world.

It’s an excruciatingly bad satire desperately trying to channel some of that Ruben Östlund energy, a film that thinks the height of comedy is defecation, weed smoking and a dog humping a CGI penguin. It looks cheap, is as funny as running face first into a spinning propeller, and despite the presence of John Cleese, Mickey Rourke, Fanny Ardant and Joaquim de Almeida, there is not a single redeeming quality to be found.

I struggle to recall a movie that misses its mark as spectacularly, and if The Palace happens to be the 90-year-old’s final film, it would be sad to see an already tarnished legacy capped off in such a turgid way. Then again, subjecting audiences to such brain rot syphons a lot of already threadbare sympathy when it comes to legacy. 

Even if you believe that art should be separated from the artist, and that you’re able to put aside the litany of ongoing sexual assault accusations and talks of cancel culture, there’s simply no excuse for such a film.  

The theatrical release of The Palace will likely trigger further uproar in France, as the country is undergoing a new MeToo reckoning, in the wake of the outrage over actor Gérard Depardieu and directors such as Benoît Jacquot. And while my cinematic caveat emptor should be buttressed by the fact the French release date coincides with the opening of the Cannes Film Festival – which is not a great time for new releases, given that some of the Cannes films hit French cinemas at the same time as they are shown on the Croisette - I nevertheless repeat my plea. For your own good, stay away.

Life’s difficult enough as it is without subjecting your retinas to The Palace.

The Palace has already been released in Italy, Poland, Hungary and Germany. Portugal is next (4 April) and then France (15 May). Good luck with that.

Additional sources • Variety

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