The producers of Roman Polanski’s An Officer And A Spy attempted to draw a line under the controversy swirling around the film after it was warmly received by press and industry on the Lido ahead of its official premiere tonight (Aug 30).
Venice’s decision to invite the film has prompted criticism due to 40-year-old sexual assault charges against Polanski related to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old following a photoshoot in Los Angeles.
Tension around its selection flared on the opening day when jury president Lucrecia Martel told the inaugural press conference that she was not sure whether she would attend the gala screening on Friday evening, due to the work she does supporting female victims of abuse.
She later issued a statement saying her words had been misinterpreted and that she would be watching the film. Reports also surfaced that the film’s producers had considered withdrawing the title.
Speaking at the film’s press conference this afternoon, Italian co-producer Luca Barbareschi of Rome-based Eliseo Cinema said the cast and crew wanted “to put everything that had happened over the last few days behind them”, adding, “This is not a morality meeting but rather a marvellous film festival.”
Asked whether he feared that Martel’s comments would influence other jury members, he replied: “What happened is in the past, the jury needs to judge and the public, if it wants, can applaud.”
Barbareschi was joined on stage by lead French producer Alain Goldman of Paris-based Legende Productions, Paolo del Brocco, CEO of Rai Cinema, which backed the film, and lead cast members Jean Dujardin, Louis Garrel and Emmanuelle Seigner, who revealed she and Polanski were marking their 30th wedding anniversary on Friday.
The filmmaker is not attending the festival as Italy has an extradition treaty with the US, which could lead to him being arrested and sent back to the US to face the sentencing process he fled in 1977.
Thus far, the film has been well received. The 8.30am press and industry screening in the 1,400-seat Sala Darsena was packed and loud applause broke as the closing credits began to roll. The consensus seemed to be that the film is a well-crafted, intelligent historical drama with contemporary resonance.
A 30-second standing ovation also broke out as cast and crew arrived for the press conference and there was sporadic applause throughout the 30-minute meeting.
The film is adapted from Robert Harris’s 2013 eponymous historic political thriller exploring the 19th-century Dreyfus Affair, revolving around the persecution of a Jewish army officer wrongly accused of spying, which divided France at the time.
Dujardin and Garrel both admitted to not really fully understanding the details of the case ahead of signing for the film.
“Everyone in France knows about the Dreyfus Affair without really knowing about it,” said Garrel.
The storyline focuses on the efforts of real-life army officer Georges Picquart (Dujardin) to achieve justice for Dreyfus (Garrel) after he stumbles on evidence showing he is innocent.
The film also makes strong reference to the antisemitism of the time.
Garrel recounted that one of Dreyfus’s great-great-granddaughters had come to the set and told him how Dreyfus’s grandchildren had later been deported during the Second World War.
“The hell didn’t stop with Dreyfus. The descendants of Dreyfus lived through hell too… it’s a terrible story,” he said.
Goldman said films like An Officer And A Spy could serve as “a tool” to combat ignorance of the past among younger generations.
“The Dreyfus Affair set the scene for all that happened in the 20th century – the holocaust. The best way to reply to future generations is to leave films that make our children think and help us see that in a country all is never lost.”