Poor Roman Polanski has had trying times for much of his 83 years. So, when an event like the Cannes Film Festival knocks on his door, one is sure that the renowned Polish auteur would be if not overjoyed, at least reasonably happy that a bright spark or two appears in his life from time to time. His latest movie, Based On A True Story, has been picked by Cannes to be screened at the festival’s second most important section, Outside Competition.
There is a clear edge in having one’s film slotted away from the main Competition -- where the pressure to win is enormous - and when all the hard work yields no trophies, the disappointment can be shattering. This writer has come across many directors who have not been quite happy about their movies playing in Competition, vying with 18 or 20 others for one of the most prestigious awards in the world of cinema, the Palm d Ór.
Also, the press at Cannes can be brutal and tear a film to shreds. The all-exclusive press shows, for instance, can be a humiliating experience for a helmer whose work may not be - in the eyes of critics - up to a certain standard. One remembers how a movie like Vincent Gallo’s Brown Bunny in 2003 was mercilessly booed by journalists. Then, there was also the case of one of Shaji N Karun’s Malayalam work at Cannes Competition whose screening mercifully did not attract booing, but saw most of the viewers walking out. It is quite possible that the largely Western media did not quite understand the nuances of a film that was essentially Indian/Keralum.
Returning to Roman Polanski, his Based On A True Story is a thriller with Eva Green essaying a mysterious woman -- who tries to enter the life of a celebrated author, portrayed by the director’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner.
Based On A True Story is inspired by a novel with the same name penned by Delphine De Vigan. A review of the book (which I have not read) in The Guardian has this to say: “The narrator is a writer named Delphine; she lives in Paris with her two teenage children, is in a relationship with a well-known journalist called François, and has recently achieved success with an autobiographical novel about her family, resulting in strained relationships with relatives who did not welcome the exposure. Thus far, the details correlate with what is known of the author. But this is fiction - isn’t it?
“The real De Vigan’s previous book, Nothing Holds Back the Night, overtly addressed the fraught boundary between memoir and fiction and the question of the author’s licence to invent; Based on a True Story takes the idea a stage further. In the novel, Delphine is crippled by writer’s block after the double-edged response to her last book (never explicitly named here); she begins to receive poison pen letters, apparently from a member of her family accusing her in vicious terms of lying and exploitation. As her crisis progresses towards severe depression, Delphine encounters the enigmatic L at a party. L is intimately familiar with Delphine’s work; an admirer who quickly insinuates herself into Delphine’s life.”
The review goes on to add that for a psychological thriller the book is slow. The question now is, will Polanski be able to infuse greater thrill and excitement into his celluloid work?
If this may be causing a bit of worry for Polanski, there can be other factors which he might have to grapple with. One, Cannes has slotted his work at the fag end of the festival when most people would have gone. Two, while Polanski’s lawyers continue to fight for his return to America - which he left 40 years ago after being convicted of raping a minor girl, and has since then been living in different parts of Europe - the US has refused to grant him any special treatment on its soil. This means that there is still a possibility of Polanski having to spend time in prison if he returns to America.
Beyond all this, one is not sure about the treatment Polanski will get at Cannes. True, he did not face any hostility when he went to the festival in 2013 with his Venus in Fur. But, let us not forget that the world is now getting increasingly intolerant, and this writer saw this ugliness last year at Cannes when Woody Allen’s estranged son, Ronan Farrow, wrote an unflattering article in The Hollywood Reporter about his father’s ‘sexual abuse’. There were some who felt that The Hollywood Reporter should not have carried the story during the festival. The timing was completely inappropriate. Cannes should not be made into a platform for trading allegations and counter-allegations.
However, one hopes that given Polanski’s age and his one devastating personal tragedy in which his eight-month pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, along with four others was gruesomely murdered in her Los Angeles house in 1969 by the Manson family, the auteur would be treated with respect and courtesy.
Finally, it must be said that Cannes is a venue for cinema and the festival must not be allowed to degenerate into a hotspot of slanging match. What happened with Allen last year was in sheer bad taste.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the landmark 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, running from May 17 to 28.)
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