© Weltkino Filmverleih GmbH

The Palace
Italy/Switzerland/Poland/France 2023

Opening 18 Jan 2024

Directed by: Roman Polanski
Writing credits: Ewa Piaskowska, Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski
Principal actors: Oliver Masucci, Fanny Ardant, John Cleese, Bronwyn James, Joaquim de Almeida

Roman Polanski’s The Palace, 2023, takes the mickey out of the super-rich—their snobbery, spoiled/pandering expectations, illusionary behavior, and rivalries. Its screenplay is a grand parody subtly calling out their debaucheries against decencies. Likewise, in Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, 2022, luxury yacht passengers embellished those traits, including flowing tactility, e.g., vomiting/excrement, and survivalism.

Nestled in the Swiss Alps, the swank Gstaad Palace luxury hotel’s premiere New Year’s Eve Gala is fully booked. Ready to rock 'n' roll into the next millennium, the staff suffer hotelier Hansueli’s (a superbly wily Oliver Masucci) pep talk twelve hours before year 1999 ends. (Naturally downplaying anxieties concerning the effect on electronic devices as centuries switch.) Festive decorations are then pushed into place as more helium balloons rise for the occasion. The hotel kitchen’s etiquette, i.e., communicating with raised fingers that Chef (Teco Celio) fails to spot, and apropos its mass cooking, is a semi-educational amusing sequence. Safely ensconced in sumptuous suites is the eccentric billionaire (John Cleese) with bride (Bronwyn James) celebrating their first anniversary; the famous porn star (Luca Barbareschi) with an insurable attribute, when it’s working; the Marquise (Fanny Ardant) with her coddled pet, Mr. Toby, and of course the well-known (among this set) plastic surgeon Dr. Lima (Joaquim de Almeida) and wife.

Arriving in spasms of style and travel mode is the turned around Mr. Faraday (Matthew T. Reynolds); a contingent of Russians—bodyguards and babes—in stretch Humvees led by Anton (Alexander Petrov); ruthless, contradictory Russian Ambassador (Ilia Volok) and wife; tense, fickle American wheeler-dealer Bill Cross (Mickey Rourke) with a Y2K bug plan; local banker Caspar Tell (Milan Peschel), Cross’s cohort, who has the best New Year’s Eve of his life, and a bevy of uplifted beauties (Sydne Rome, January Piromallo, Annick Christiaens) apropos Dr. Lima’s distinct workmanship. Straggling in last is naïve Vaclav, and wife (Danny Exnar, Irina Kastrinidis respectively) with sleepy twins in tow, searching for Papa and unthwartable.

Polanski’s director’s statement is eye-opening: “For almost half a century I have been visiting the Gstaad Palace in Switzerland, host to an extremely rich and polyglot élite, served by the proletariat of the hotel staff. … A gulf separates them, commencing with their political views. …[T]he figure of the hotel manager, who takes care of everyone and tries to satisfy them all … means he sometimes has to suck up to both guests and staff.” Some parodies mocking are easy to spot, e.g., Rourke’s blustering, bottled blonde haired, bronzed fraudster and the ninety-seven-year / twenty-two-year-old Cleese/James combo, while others are, perhaps, in a different league. Alexandre Desplat’s fanciful score accompanies caught-in-the-act escapades by Pawel Edelman’s camera—filming on location—that Hervé de Luze edits into a dizzyingly colorful millennial crossover.

People watching is fun. Body language is a fascinating watch/study telling volumes about a person’s personality, feelings, temperament. Polanski obviously is a very good observer as The Palace cleverly shows that is well worth a look-see just to flavor mockery in full bloom. “Actions speak louder than words.” (Marinell Haegelin)

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