Polanski’s Dreyfus drama a favorite to win Venice film festival
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Polanski’s Dreyfus drama a favorite to win Venice film festival

Film about persecuted French Jewish army officer claims critics’ prize, despite controversy surrounding director in #MeToo era

Director Roman Polanski poses during a photo call to the screening of "Based on a true story" in Paris, France, October 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Francois Mori,file)
Director Roman Polanski poses during a photo call to the screening of "Based on a true story" in Paris, France, October 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Francois Mori,file)

Roman Polanski’s film about the Dreyfus Affair — in which he was accused of drawing parallels between himself and the persecuted French Jewish army officer — has won the critics’ prize at the Venice film festival, making it a favorite to lift the top award on Saturday.

If the official jury were to make the same choice it would cause an outcry, with feminists already furious the veteran maker of “Rosemary’s Baby” was allowed to compete at the festival.

Polanski, 86, has been shunned by Hollywood for decades after he was convicted of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl.

He did not show up at the festival, leaving it to his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner — who also appears in “An Officer and a Spy” — to defend him against the “persecution” she said he feels.

The last two winners of the Golden Lion — “Roma” and “The Shape of Water” — have gone on to lift the best picture Oscar, and the festival was also the launch pad for “The Favourite,” “La La Land,” “A Star is Born” and “Birdman.”

The three men and three women of the Fipresci jury of international critics said they were won over by Polanski’s “rigorous and elegant” direction and “the powerful dialogue and exceptional performances [by] the actors.”

However, Polanski has stiff competition from the taut divorce drama “Marriage Story,” which features Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson at their best, and Joaquin Phoenix’s bravura turn in “The Joker” — which has set the Internet abuzz.

While some critics found Polanski’s inferred comparison with Alfred Dreyfus “obscene,” others admired the Polish Holocaust survivor’s artistry.

Alfred Dreyfus in the Villemarie Garden, Carpentras 1899-1900. (Dreyfus Family Collection)

Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin’s fine performance as the military prosecutor who becomes convinced of Dreyfus’s innocence may be rewarded if the jury baulk at crowning Polanski.

Its head, Argentine director Lucrecia Martel, had to make an embarrassing about-turn after boycotting a gala dinner for Polanski, only to be forced to clarify that she was not prejudiced against his film.

In a year fraught with controversy over sexual politics, festival director Alberto Barbera was also accused of being “tone deaf” for his inclusion of a Black Lives Matter drama by the American Nate Parker, who was embroiled in a rape trail while at university, as well as the director’s cut of Gasper Noe’s 2002 rape shocker “Irreversible.”

Barbera added further fuel to the fire by saying he “wished he had got” Woody Allen’s latest, “A Rainy Day in New York.”

Politics were everywhere in Venice. The Russo brothers — the makers of “Avengers: Endgame,” the highest grossing film in history — won plaudits for “Mosul,” the first Hollywood action film shot entirely in Arabic. South African film “Moffie” was hailed for getting to the roots of “toxic masculinity” in the country just as thousands of women were taking to the streets there to protest against male violence.

Climate change and anti-cruise ship protesters invaded the red carpet on Saturday before the screening of the art world thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy” starring the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger.

Only hours before his fellow rock “dinosaur,” Pink Floyd songwriter Roger Waters, had urged young people to revolt to save the planet as he lambasted populist leaders including US President Donald Trump, Britain’s Boris Johnson and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro for trying to destroy it.

Roger Waters poses for photographers at the photo call for the film ‘Roger Waters Us + Them’ at the 76th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Sepember. 6, 2019. (Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

They were all “sociopaths,” he told AFP.

“If we do not resist the neo-liberal and neo-fascist forces that are tearing the planet apart there will not be anything left for our children and their children,” the veteran star declared.

Waters — a trenchant critic of the US and Israel and a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — wore a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf to the premiere of his tour documentary, “Them + Us.”

Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa warned about the dangerous rise of Stalin nostalgia as he premiered his new documentary of long-lost archive footage of the Soviet dictator’s “grandiose, terrifying and grotesque” funeral.

French and Italy critics in particular were wowed by the cleverly political Naples-set adaptation of the Jack London novel, “Martin Eden,” starring the extraordinary Luca Marinelli.

Czech epic “The Painted Bird” was hailed as a masterpiece by some for pitching viewers into the unrelenting suffering of one young boy during the Holocaust.

Other critics loved Brad Pitt’s stellar performance in the space epic “Ad Astra” — his second of the year after Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” — which they said lays down a marker for the Oscars.

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