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Venice sees Polanski, Bradley Cooper but only on-screen

Published September 02,2023

Roman Polanski and Bradley Cooper headline the Venice Film Festival on Saturday, though controversy and a Hollywood strike mean neither is attending.

Still technically a fugitive from US justice over a child sex conviction in the 1970s, the 90-year-old Polanski will be absent for the premiere of "The Palace", his farce set in a Swiss hotel that could be the legendary director's last film.

An ongoing actors strike in Hollywood means Cooper and Carey Mulligan will also be missing from the launch of their movie "Maestro" about legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and his wife.

Though Cooper is also director, he chose to stay home in solidarity with the strikers, foregoing the splashy red carpet launch he gave his previous hit, "A Star is Born", in Venice.

There has been some internet-driven controversy over Cooper's decision to wear a large prosthetic nose -- seen by some as perpetuating stereotypes about Jews -- though Bernstein's family defended the film and said the composer would not have minded and confirmed he had a "nice, big nose".


Since the MeToo movement, Polanski's conviction for child sex in the 1970s has overshadowed his work and made him a pariah in Hollywood.

Still revered for classics like "Chinatown", "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Pianist", his selection in the out-of-competition section at Venice has been widely criticised by feminist groups and others.

His new film stars Mickey Rourke and John Cleese as guests in a fancy hotel for the turn of the millennium.

For decades, Polanski's conviction was largely overlooked, particularly in Europe where he continued to work and win awards, right up to his last film, the France-based "An Officer and a Spy", which won the Jury prize in Venice in 2019.

But anger over that film's success at France's Cesar Awards proved a rallying point for MeToo anger in the country, which had been a haven for the director for years, especially as fresh assault allegations against Polanski came to light.

Venice festival director Alberto Barbera defended the decision to include him, telling AFP: "The history of art is full of artists who were criminals, and we nonetheless continue to admire their work."

"Maestro" is among 23 films competing for the Golden Lion in Venice, to be decided on September 9.

A towering figure of 20th-century classical music, Bernstein assured his place in popular history by composing the Broadway smash musical "West Side Story".

The Venice competition has one frontrunner so far after rave reviews for "Poor Things" on Friday.

It saw Emma Stone as a sexually voracious reanimated corpse in a darkly comic, and strongly feminist, reimagining of Frankenstein.

Also getting warm reviews was Adam Driver as racing car impresario Enzo Ferrari in Michael Mann's "Ferrari".