Roman Polanski and the Sterling Brand of Cannes

He first attended the annual film festival in 1958

The Cannes Film Festival is about to celebrate its 70th anniversary. On the cover of Paris-Match magazine’s special issue honoring that fact is Jack Nicholson, pictured from the time he brought The Postman Always Rings Twice to the glitzy French Riviera event in 1981. Inside the issue, interviews include one with Roman Polanski, whose thriller Based on a True Story is screening this year Out of Competition.

Polanski’s association with the Cannes Film Festival dates back to the 11th edition in 1958. Then a film student at the National Film School in Lodz, Poland, he had traveled to Paris to visit his sister. Famously, he ducked down via Nice to check out the festival, connecting with Polish director Andrzej Wadja, attending a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and catching a cab ride back from Cannes to the Nice airport with Abel Gance, director of groundbreaking 1927 silent film Napoleon. That movie was a major influence on both Polanski and the critics-turned-filmmakers who made up France’s New Wave movement.

Decades later, Polanski was president of the festival jury, in 1991. In the Paris-Match interview, Polanski tells a funny story about suffering through Jacques Rivette’s four-hour drama The Beautiful Troublemaker (La Belle Noiseuse). He jokes that all he and fellow jury member Vangelis wanted to do during the screening was sleep.

There’s generally a marked contrast between coverage of Polanski in France vs. by U.S. and U.K. outlets, a divide that will flare up again towards the end of the 70th edition when the filmmaker’s movie screens. The latter group is much more likely to frame coverage with observations such as, ‘Yes, Roman Polanski is not a cool person to like, but…’ and headlines such as “Does Roman Polanski’s Talent Excuse His Behavoir?” All of course in reference to a very different confluence of Mssrs. Polanski and Nicholson than the Paris-Match cover, one that dates back to 1977.

Previously on Fishbowl: