Roman Polanski's The Palace is a Hilarious Satire

ORLANDO — Disaster strikes Gstaad Palace, a luxury resort in the Swiss Alps, on New Year’s Eve, but it’s not the natural kind. Instead, the hotel’s highly skilled staff endure the ghastly behavior of hideous, filthy rich guests.

Roman Polanski’s much-maligned black comedy is actually a bad taste riot, with Oliver Masucci just marvelous as Hansueli Kopf, the hyper-vigilant hotel manager who has a lot of messes to clean up – literally and figuratively. He has a wickedly busy night as the staff do their best to throw an extravagant New Year’s Eve party in 1999, when a lot of the hotel’s rich guests are worried about the Y2K glitch throwing the world into chaos at the stroke of midnight.

As it turns out, those rich guests cause far more chaos than Y2K ever could.

The film unfolds like a scenes of vaudeville skits that continuously ask us why society needs rich people to begin with 😝 😆, and it has a knockout cast. Mickey Rourke (as a crude, obnoxious businessman who forget to make a reservation) and John Cleese (as an aging tycoon celebrating his wedding anniversary with a bride 70 years younger than him) provide some side-splitting moments. Toss in an aging, well endowed ex-porn star, a wandering penguin, Russian hookers and a doogie that likes mama’s vibrator, and you’ve got quite the party! 🎉 🎊 🥂

The Palace, of course, is better known today for the harsh reviews it got at its world premiere at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 2 2023, when critics savaged the film and called it the director’s worst ever movie. It even became known for having a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I had a sneaking suspicion that the critics were reviewing Polanski himself, and not the movie.

That got confirmed to me when the film was shown in cinemas in Italy and Poland, and an Italian video company, Vecosell Videoteca, finally released the film on DVD this month, with both an Italian-language version and the original English audio version, and subtitles in both languages. (If you speak English, definitely turn on the English subtitles, since some of the movie’s scenes are in Russian and French).

Polanski wrote the original screenplay with fellow Polish film director Jerzy Skolimowski, who hadn’t collaborated with the director since Polanski’s debut film, Knife In The Water, in 1962. Why did these two legendary Polish directors want to do a movie that skewered the ultra-rich at a Swiss resort?

It may have something to do with the “Polish plumber” controversy in Europe. In 2004, a European Union law known as the Bolkestein Directive was introduced to establish a single market for services across the EU, allowing workers to move freely between countries. Opponents of the law in France used the derogatory term “Polish plumbers” to warn that Polish workers would replace French plumbers. The stereotype of the Polish plumber was even used by supporters of the referendum that led to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Were Polanski and Skolimowski having fun mocking the super rich who are happy being waited on hand and foot by hotel servants, including ones who are Polish? Perhaps.

In any case, ignore the harsh reviews and check out the DVD, easily available on eBay. At the very least, this film has Polanski’s usual high production standards, including gorgeous cinematography by Pawel Edelman of the Swiss Alps, and another terrific score by composer Alexandre Desplat. Interestingly, throughout this 95 minute film, Polanski echoes plenty of moments from his past work: the posh hotel in Frantic, the New Year’s Eve party in Bitter Moon, the cruel, loutish humor in The Tenant and Pirates, the elderly man dying in the throes of ecstasy in What?, the bad behavior in Carnage. If you enjoy the director’s work, I definitely think you’ll enjoy this one.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the terrifying book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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