It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 60 years since Roman Polanski collaborated with Jerzy Skolimowski on the groundbreaking Polish thriller Knife in the Water in 1962. But it’s even harder to believe that these two giants of international cinema recently reunited to pool their brain cells and create The Palace, the most horrific, joyless farce since the heyday of British sex comedy in the ’70s. Forget for a moment, if you can, the fuss over Polanski’s controversial status as a fugitive from justice and focus instead on the fact that the Venice Film Festival, in its infinite wisdom, booked this completely terrible offering anyway and somehow took no offense to it deserve a prestigious out-of-competition slot.
The setting is “The Palace,” a luxurious Alpine retreat where the European jet set gathers to tour in the year 2000. There are fears that the Y2K bug will bring the world to a standstill and perhaps even completely destroy it, but that doesn’t faze hotel boss Hansueli Kopf (Oliver Masucci) who insists everything will be fine. The goal is simply to satisfy the influx of rich and ostentatious guests who will “stuff themselves with caviar to their heart’s content” and drink champagne until it “bubbles out of their ears.”
He’s not wrong. His vulgar clientele includes a bevy of lunch ladies whose facelifted faces become grotesquely flirtatious as they vie for the attention of a famous plastic surgeon. There’s a porn star named Bongo who once insured his cock for $5 million; a nymphomaniac French marquise whose dog, Mr. Toby, refuses to poop in the snowy outdoors; and a group of Russian gangsters who arrive with their entourage of hookers and bodyguards, only to discover that Boris Yeltsin has handed their country over to a young upstart named Vladimir Putin.
Amazingly, things just get worse from there. There’s Mr. Crush, a gruff American businessman with an orange face and a blonde wig who at first glance looks like a cruel parody of Mickey Rourke, but is then shockingly revealed to be Mickey Rourke. Mr. Crush is involved in a shady deal to exploit the Y2K bug, but his stay at the hotel is interrupted by the arrival of his illegitimate doppelganger, who comes from an Eastern European city with a “weird” foreign name who calls him “Da-da.” ” and proclaimed, “I AM THE FRUIT OF YOUR COLLEGE LOVE!” while brandishing a Chevrolet keychain as speculative evidence.
However, none of this can prepare you for the horror of the scenes in which John Cleese stars as 87-year-old US tycoon Arthur William Dallas III, celebrating a year of marriage to his whiyaat-traaaash wife of 22 years, Magnolia. Spoiler alert: He will die while they are having sex, leaving Magnolia penniless when his death is reported before midnight on their first anniversary, according to the terms of their marriage. This leads to a harrowing sequence that makes “Weekend at Bernie’s” look like the funniest joke of the season, as Kopf and his associates pack the corpse into a wheelchair, cigar in hand, while the other guests are distracted by an elaborate fireworks display .
Nothing about it is remotely funny: seriously, nothing at all. There’s toilet humor, crude innuendo, a brassy joke about Alzheimer’s, and crass satire that reaches such shameless depths that you know it won’t really be over until the drunk lady pukes (and she does). It’s incredible, but at the age of 90, Polanski may actually have signed off with a film that will never see the light of day in any English-speaking country. Polanski completists are welcome to hunt it down – it has been sold to a worrying number of international territories – and if they do, they deserve everything they get.
Title: The palace
Festival: Venice (out of competition)
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenwriters: Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Ewa Piaskowska
Pour: Oliver Masucci, Fanny Ardant, John Cleese, Mickey Rourke
Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes
Sales agent: RAI cinema