Ali Abbasi The Apprentice c Nadim Carlsen Cannes Film Festival

Source: Nadim Carlsen / Cannes Film Festival

Ali Abbasi, ‘The Apprentice’

The Apprentice director Ali Abbasi has said he would like Donald Trump to watch his Cannes Competition selection after the former US president’s campaign declared it will sue the filmmakers over “blatantly false assertions”.

“I don’t necessarily think this is a movie he would dislike,” Abbasi told a Cannes press conference on Tuesday. ”I think he would be surprised. I would offer to go and meet him and have a screening and talk about the movie afterwards.”

Trump’s campaign labelled the 1970s-set origins story centred on the relationship between Trump and his notorious fixer Roy Cohn “pure fiction which sensationalises lies that have been long debunked”.

One scene in the film shows Trump, played by Sebastian Stan, raping his former wife Ivana, played by Maria Bakalova. Ivana Trump initially referred to the 1989 incident as rape, and spoke about it the couple’s divorce a year later. Several years later she said she did not want her words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense. She died in 2022.

“Everybody talks about [Trump] suing a lot of people,” the Iranian-Danish director, whose credits include Border and Holy Spider, said. “They don’t talk about the success rate.”

Asked about his hopes for a release date, Abbasi suggested timing around the second upcoming presidential debate on September 10 between Trump and current White House incumbent Joe Biden. “We have a promotional event coming up called the US election,” he quipped. “We hope very much it can come out.” 

There is currently no US distributor attached on what could well prove to be a tough sell given audience fatigue over blanket political coverage and potential concerns over the threats of legal action. CAA Media Finance and WME International handle US rights. Rocket Science quietly sold international territories prior to Cannes.

Abassi insisted the film’s focus was not its lead character: “This is not a movie about Donald Trump. This is a movie about a system, and the way the system works, and the way the system is built, and the way power runs through the system, and how Roy Cohn was an expert at using the system.”

Jeremy Strong, the Succession star who plays Cohn, was unable to leave New York, where he stars in Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People. In a statement, Strong said, “We are in a world where truth is under assault… At this moment in history we are expiring Cohn’s long dark shadow.”

Abbasi pushed back when asked why he made a “partisan” contribution to the United States elections, and why an Iranian-Danish filmmaker such as himself would tell an ostensibly American story. He said he did not see his career as a linear journey telling stories related to each country before expanding his reach into the United States and beyond.

Speaking of his interpretation of Trump, Stan, whose credits include A Different Man and Marvel CInematic Universe films, said: “He’s a human being like everybody else. I guess we all have certain codes and principles. It just depends on what they are. It’s relative to everybody.”

As Ivana, Bakalova, who broke out in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, opined: “The more I got to know Ivana, the more I fell in love with her. She was ahead of her time. It was inspiring to see.”