Saturday, May 18, 2024

Cannes: My Dinner with Roman Polanski on a Yacht in the Middle of the Mediterranean


Serendipity strikes: while the black tie audience was cheering and clapping for Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra,” I accepted a last minute dinner invite from the legendary Peggy Siegal: come to the St. Nicolas yacht, floating a mile and a half out in the Mediterranean, and meet Roman Polanski at an intimate dinner.

What would you do?

Despite Polanski’s infamous personal scandal that has plagued him, I have admired him as a filmmaker for as long as I can remember. From “Rosemary’s Baby” to “Chinatown” to “Tess” to “The Pianist” to “The Ghost Writer,” he has been one of the towering directors of modern film. As a journalist, I have very few people left whom I’d like to meet and talk to- Polanski is it. So I accepted, and off we went on a tender–a small boat that seats ten people–for the half hour ride into the dark blue water.

Jeff Berg, Polanski’s long time agent and great friend, hosted the party for his new and already very successful Resolution Agency. There would be dinner for 60, followed by a larger party for 120.

Our dinner group included Adrien Brody, who won the Oscar for Best Actor in “The Pianist,” two time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, and several movie execs including Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics and Patrick Wachsburger of Lions Gate.

The boat, the St Nicolas, is two hundred and thirty feet long, delivered in 2007. It has an elevator, a gym, lots of bedrooms, and plenty of room for dining. The appointments are very elegant, all dark wood, understated. A young couple from Europe and Russia own it.

So we made the journey, because it would seem like the only way to meet Polanski. It’s not like you’re going to find him in club or restaurant. The trip by tender took so long that someone joked that we were in international waters.

But there he was: he looked just like Roman Polanski. His hair is gray. As we know from him acting, he is not a tall man. But you can’t miss him. During the dinner, he was so happy to see Brody he took pictures of him with his iPhone. And vice versa. I asked Adrien when he’d seen his director last, and he replied: “Not that long ago. I like to see him when I get to Paris.”

Polanski has two films this year in Cannes: his film of the play “Venus in Fur,” and “Weekend of a Champion,” a documentary about race car driver Jackie Stewart. He told me he had made the doc over 40 years ago, and then it just went into oblivion. The people who had the negative called and said they were going to throw it out. “So I said, no, let me have it. I remade the whole thing. And we’ll see it tomorrow,” Polanski said.

We talked about how he made suburban Germany look like Martha’s Vineyard in “The Ghost Writer.” I listened while he told Waltz– who was in his “Carnage” last year– and Berg and Peggy and me–about his turn running the Cannes jury many years ago. The thing about film festivals, he said, was that “you have to watch the films they choose, not the ones you want to see.”

We did not talk about anything other than films. And that was just fine. It’s the same in James Toback’s new doc “Seduced and Abandoned.” The other stuff is talked out. Let’s not squander a genius among us. We left the St. Nicolas as the post-dinner guests began to arrive. We’ll see Polanski tonight, again, at the premiere of “Weekend of a Champion.” And the conversation continues.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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