The Palace (2023) Venice Film Festival 2023

September 2nd, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Roman Polanski | Cast: John Cleese, Fanny Ardant, Mickey Rourke, Oliver Masucci | Comedy Drama, 90’

Roman Polanski has a field day in latest film which turns out to be turkey – in the best possible way. And this is no news to ardent fans of the controversial director who has always been true his heart with an eclectic body of films that have won him an Oscar, a Palme d’Or, a Bafta, Golden and Silver Bears, and a brace of other garlands.

Polanski prides himself in being an actor’s director with a string of international hits: Tess, The Pianist, Chinatown, The Ghost, Cul-de-Sac, Repulsion, Frantic and hauntingly memorable thrillers like Rosemary’s Baby, The Ninth Gate and The Tenant. His version of Macbeth stands out from the crowd, along with historical drama Oliver Twist. Knife in the Water will certainly go down in history as one of the most taught psychological dramas. And then there’s Fearless Vampire Killers that vaunts his absurdist comedy talents.

The Palace, premiering at this year’s 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival, probably falls somewhere between box office flop What? (1972) and Fearless Vampire Killers. Set in a snowy Swiss 5 star hotel called this jaunty little comedy once again assembles a motley crew of oddballs there to welcome in the 21st Century. But what’s missing here is Polanski’s iconic craft and dogged attention to detail, and although there are some laughs, for the most part the film is about showcasing the grotesque to the point of parody.

The Palace feels like Polanski is just having a big party with his close friends – co-writer Jerzy Skolimowski and producer Ewa Piaskowska, Fanny Ardant and John Cleese (in a departure from Basil Fawlty). Veteran DoP Pawel Edelman is behind the camera and Alexandre Desplat provides the score. And there’s even a part for his daughter Morgane.

In The Palace, nearly all the guests have had some form of cosmetic work particularly Mickey Rourke who sports an orange perma-tan and a blond wig hiding his baleful frown. They all demonstrate the rude sense of entitlement of the super rich. But this is just all part of the fun. In a timely tongue-in-cheek touch a group of Russians injects a vein of Cold War sculduggery. A retiring President Yeltsin makes a TV announcement introducing his replacement, an unassuming man called Vladimir Putin. There is plenty of intrigue but none of the narrative strands leads anywhere. Maybe in his ripe old 80s Polanski is just poking fun at plot resolution. Who knows? But a touch of upbeat humour is much welcome in these angst-ridden times. To cap it all, the star turn, providing the romantic finale, is a live penguin. MT



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