Roman Polanskis Producer Luca Barbareschi Talks Making Of The Palace & Loyalty To Controversial Director: I Know The Real Story
Actor, producer and director Luca Barbareschi is at the Venice Film Festival this year as one the main representatives of Roman Polanski’s new film The Palace.
The satire, poking fun at the ultra-rich against the backdrop of Switzerland’s luxury Gstaad Palace Hotel and featuring Mickey Rourke, Fanny Ardant and John Cleese in the ensemble cast, world premieres Out of Competition in a gala screening on Saturday.
Its selection for Venice’s 80th edition has sparked debate in the film world, which remains split over whether Polanski should be celebrated as an artist while 1973 charges of unlawful sex with a minor in the U.S. remain unresolved.
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The director, who turned 90 in August, has not travelled to Italy, where it remains unclear whether he would be subject to Italy’s extradition treaty with the U.S., while a number of the film’s international stars including John Cleese are staying away due to the Hollywood actors’ strike.
Aside from playing a porn star called Bongo in the film, the larger-than-life figure of Barbareschi was a driving force behind getting The Palace off the ground, having previously aproduced Polanski’s last film, the award-winning Dreyfus Affair drama An Officer And A Spy.
In the face of the controversies swirling around the director, he lead produced under the banner of his Rome-based Èliseo Entertainment, securing the support of Italy’s Rai Cinema as a lead partner as well as Jean-Louis Porchet at CAB Productions, Wojciech Gostomczyk at Lucky BOB as co-producers. Polanski’s RP Productions is also credited as co-producer.
Barbareschi and Polanski have been friends for nearly 50 years, and he is fiercely loyal to the director.
“I know the real story. I was there in 1975 and 1976,” he says.
“I cannot speak for Roman but the 70s were not today. It was free sex for all. I could have a jail sentence for what I did in New York between 1974 and 1980 with the logic of today’s political correctness.”
He points to an interview with French magazine Le Point earlier this year between Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner and with his 1973 victim Samantha Geimer earlier this year in which the latter speaks out in defence of the director.
“Roman never gave drugs to anyone. Everybody was high. Everybody took quaaludes. It was a completely different time. Knowing Roman, Roman is the most gentle, and I insist on the word gentle, the most gentle and sensitive man I have met in my life,” he continues.
“I don’t think he ever raped anybody. He was a very sexy man and women were chasing him.”
His new collaboration with Polanski is in a different vein from An Officer And A Spy.
Revolving around the chasm between the Gstaad Palace’s uber rich clientele and those who serve, the dark comedy unfolds in lead-up to a lavish New Year Party on the eve of 2000 and takes inspiration from Polanski’s own stays at the hotel. Watch the international trailer here.
The director co-wrote the screenplay with his long-time friend Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski and producer Ewa Piaskowska.
“Roman has a huge sense of humor. After An Officer And A Spy, we thought it would something lighter, which was clever at the same time, a sort of black comedy about human beings,” says Barbareschi.
“He nailed i,t I think, with his old friend Jerzy, and his wife [Piaskowska]. It was so much fun watching them work together. They have been friends forever, 70, 80 years, since they were kids. It’s an amazing chance to put them together.”
The film was shot against the real-life backdrop of the Gstaad Palace Hotel, with the pre-production and the shoot spanning an intense three months.
Alongside the cast, also including Oliver Masucci, Joaquim de Almeida, Bronwyn James, Milan Peschel Fortunato Cerlino, the crew gather a number of Polanski’s long-time award-winning collaborators, including cinematographer Pawel Edelman, production designer, Tonino Zera, who is being feted at Venice this year, and costume designer Claudio Poggioli.
Polanski’s An Officer And A Spy racked up awards, including Venice’s Jury Prize, and critical acclaim, but Barbareschi acknowledges that securing production partners and then distribution in some territories has been challenging.
“The movie has been sold in Germany, Spain, Russia, Israel, Poland, Greece, a lot of places in Europe but not America, not in the UK, not in Australia, or New Zealand,” he says.
“I don’t think it will get sold in America now, which I think is embarrassing for them. I got a letter from David Mamet saying this country is falling apart, this film (An Officer And A Spy) should play in schools forever.”
“I think the day, God forbid I hope he lives until 120, the day he dies, they will buy it right away because on Paramount you can watch every Roman movie even now so I don’t understand the difference.”
A distribution deal has also been slow in coming in Polanski’s native France, where the film grossed close to $12m for Gaumont and controversially swept the board at the local César awards.
‘That’s the biggest scandal. An Officer and A Spy sold more than a million tickets there. They still have to decide, and that’s the worst thing – a country that does not support its own heroes, is a suicidal cult.”
It remains to be seen if the mood will thaw at home after the film is revealed in Venice.
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