THE PALACE: Polanski Didn’t Make a Bad Film [REVIEW]

The negative reviews of The Palace appear as an attempt to deny reality; a shame that we derive enjoyment from “uncle’s humor.”

Jan Tracz

5 September 2023

The Palace, the latest film by Roman Polanski, offers a strictly cabaret-style humor, a few misfires, moments of tasteless grotesque, and plenty of narrative understatement, but how it’s watched, performed, staged, directed, and served!

Welcome to The Palace Hotel – an exclusive place nestled somewhere in the Swiss mountains, accessible only to the chosen ones (the wealthiest and those who matter worldwide). It just so happens that this charming hotel plans to host a New Year’s Eve banquet from 1999 to 2000. It’s an important date for everyone: entering the new millennium, changing four digits on the latest calendar, and, for some, the once-predicted end-of-the-world date. One evening, but so much content, so it’s no wonder that Roman Polanski (in collaboration with Jerzy Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska) chose this moment as the starting point for his latest (and possibly last in his career?) film.

The entire hotel event will be managed by Hansueli (known from the series Dark, Oliver Masucci, “German Mads Mikkelsen”), and numerous guests won’t make it easy for him. The group will include a bunch of Russians associated with a certain political faction, the excellent Mickey Rourke as an aging American investor forced to deal with his son (who arrives from the Czech Republic), and even John Cleese himself, playing a British and somewhat silly aristocrat in the film. Interestingly, Cleese, in his old age, isn’t afraid of any challenges or crossing the boundaries of good taste. Although the actor is 83 years old, his slapstick role reminds us of his heyday with Monty Python.

Currently, the film has a 0% positive rating on the popular Rotten Tomatoes website, but this is likely due to the Venice audience’s bias against Polanski rather than the film being an artistic failure. During the screening, the entire audience had a great time and even cheered, but when the end credits rolled with the director’s name, no one applauded. Polanski is persona non grata in Venice; even if he entertains, few admit to enjoying it. Furthermore, the situation is so unusual that Woody Allen’s reception is disproportionately better than Polanski’s, even though both films maintain a very similar level.

The Palace is primarily Hotel-Babylon, Babylon-hotel: Polanski plays with the language of his guests, which often leads to deepening social and class animosities. English, German, French, Russian, and even Czech and Polish. Our native screenwriters (with their linguistic finesse) engage in verbal battles and come out unscathed. There are 7,117 known languages on Earth, and Polanski and his team chose to speak in the language of risqué humor. It must be emphasized that it is completely childish, but perhaps no film has generated such positive energy during a screening in a long time. Therefore, the negative reviews of The Palace appear as an attempt to deny reality; a shame that we derive enjoyment from “uncle’s humor.”

Nonetheless, evaluating this film seems somewhat difficult, as more than ever in Polanski’s filmography, it depends on the viewers’ experiences (in this case, age, accepted humor type, and film convention). During the festival, there were many criticisms that Polanski and Skolimowski, to quote, served us “a cabaret of older gentlemen” (a phrase heard from three different people). On one hand, it’s hard not to agree: the humor often seems straightforward, invasive, occasionally even perverse, but how it is watched. Editing, action direction, collective acting, jumping between plots… This film is one big mise en scene, self-aware staging, a playful cinematic performance. Not every joke lands, not everything has the right to be funny, but this doesn’t change the fact that theoretically, the film should be evaluated as a whole. And here, it’s rare to find anything to criticize: right up to the end, we want to know how the guests of The Palace Hotel will react to entering the new millennium.

Polanski’s film is more familiar and exaggerated than The Triangle of Sadness, but it still works as a source of immense entertainment. And in this regard, our native director is the best: he mesmerizes us from the first minutes to the end credits.

Jan Tracz

Jan Tracz

A journalist with four years of experience in the cultural industry (film, music, literature, politics). Writer for respected Polish and English sites and magazines, interviewed most famous stars, writers, actors, talents, directors and musicians (incl. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Lasse Hallström, Matthew Lewis, David Thomson, Richard Dyer, Rachel Shenton, Tom Wlaschiha, Lena Olin, Jenna Elfman, Lennie James, Yannick Bisson, Ximena Lamadrid, Malcolm Storry, Alexandra Savior). Current Film Studies MA student at King's College London.

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