‘Canceled’ directors Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Luc Besson premiered new movies at Venice Film Festival. Here’s how their attempted comebacks were received.

Of the most influential people in the film world, you’ll find fewer sympathetic to “canceled” filmmakers than Alberto Barbera.

“I am on the side of those who say you have to distinguish between the responsibilities of the individual and that of the artist,” Barbera, the artistic director of the Venice Film Festival, told Variety in July.

In the interview, Barbera defended his instantly controversial decision to have the 2023 edition of the venerable Italian festival, running Aug. 30 to Sept. 9, feature new projects from Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Luc Besson — all legendary filmmakers, all at some point accused of sexual predation, and all with careers that have flatlined, particularly in the wake of the industry’s 2017 #MeToo reckoning.

The cases of Allen, Polanski and Besson are all markedly different. But together they represent the debate over which Barbera is taking the road generally less traveled in Hollywood: separating the art from the artist.

Here’s how each of their premieres on the Lido fared this past weekend.

Woody Allen premieres Coup de Chance

Woody Allen, wife Soon-Yi Previn and their daughters at the Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 4, 2023 (Marilla Sicilia/Archivio Marilla Sicilia/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

Woody Allen, wife Soon-Yi Previn (far right) and their daughters at the Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 4, 2023. (Marilla Sicilia/Archivio Marilla Sicilia/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

As recently as 2017, the 87-year-old Annie Hall and Manhattan writer-director was still making star-studded ensembles on a near-annual basis, filming A Rainy Day in New York that September with Timothée Chalamet, Selena Gomez, Jude Law, Diego Luna and Rebecca Hall. One month later, the #MeToo movement exploded following a New York Times investigative report about Harvey Weinstein, leading Amazon to terminate its distribution deal with Allen, who was accused by ex-partner Mia Farrow in 1992 of sexually abusing their adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow. (Allen was investigated but never charged, and he eventually married Mia’s adopted daughter from a previous relationship, Soon-Yi Previn). Stars Chalamet, Gomez and Hall subsequently announced they would donate their salaries to charities.

Allen’s career hasn’t been the same since. Actors such as Kate Winslet, Colin Firth and Elliot Page have expressed regret over working with him. He cast Christoph Waltz for 2020’s Rifkin’s Festival, but the film had a low-key premiere at a low-key film festival, Spain’s San Sebastián International Film Festival. (Neither Rainy Day nor Rifkin had U.S. distribution.) He lost his book deal.

Coup de Chance is Allen’s first film in three years, his 50th feature, and his first French-language film. “Woody Allen went under legal scrutiny twice at the end of the ’90s and was absolved,” Barbera told Variety. “After almost 25 years, why should we keep on banning his films?” Barbera asked The Guardian. “It’s impossible to release his films in the U.S. now, which is absolutely unbelievable.”

The reaction to Allen at Venice was decidedly mixed when Coup premiered Monday night. Two dozen protestors gathered outside of the theater, according to The Hollywood Reporter, shouting slogans like “no rape culture!” Inside, though, the filmmaker was greeted with a standing ovation before the movie even began, and drew three minutes of standing applause after the screening — which Variety notes would have continued had the director not made his way to the exit.

The film has drawn generally positive reviews, with a 83% approval rating currently on Rotten Tomatoes. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman called it Allen’s best work since 2015’s Blue Jasmine. “As a culture, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we found ourselves debating whether the time has come to give Woody Allen, as a filmmaker, another coup de chance,” he wrote.

It remains to be seen whether Allen will keep working, though. In a separate interview with Variety, he hinted at retirement. “I have so many ideas for films that I would be tempted to do it, if it was easy to finance,” he said. “But beyond that, I don’t know if I have the same verve to go out and spend a lot of time raising money.”

Asked if he feels he’s been canceled, Allen replied, “I just find that all so silly. I don’t think about it. I don’t know what it means to be canceled. I know that over the years everything has been the same for me. I make my movies. What has changed is the presentation of the films.”

Roman Polanski premieres The Palace

Polanski, now 90, was indicted — on six criminal charges related to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of unlawful intercourse with a minor, but upon hearing the judge was going to renege on the deal, fled the U.S. in 1978 before he could be sentenced and has been making films in Europe ever since.

Hollywood was initially forgiving, which was never clearer than on March 23, 2003, when Polanski won the Academy Award for Best Director for his Holocaust drama The Pianist. His 2010 thriller The Ghost Writer was similarly well-received. Even his first post-#MeToo release, 2019’s An Officer and a Spy, flourished. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival and received 12 nominations from the César Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars.

“Polanski is one of the last great masters of European cinema,” Barbera told The Guardian. “He made huge mistakes 50 years ago. He recognized that he was guilty. He asked to be forgiven by the victim, and the victim gave her forgiveness. I’m not a judge who is asked to make a judgment about the bad behavior of someone. I’m a film critic, my job is judging the quality of his films. But of course, it’s a very difficult situation.”

Polanski’s latest Venice premiere, The Palace, is a dark comedy co-starring Mickey Rourke as one of several guests at a Swiss luxury hotel on New Year’s Eve on Y2K.

The premiere on Friday also drew small protests and received only a “tepid” three-minute standing ovation from the crowd. (It is customary at European film festivals like Venice and Cannes for the creative team to receive a standing ovation; however, anything short of five minutes is considered lackluster. True crowd-pleasers can have ovations that last up to 10 minutes.) Polanski was not in attendance.

Critical reactions have been brutal. Variety’s Gleiberman called it a “garish debacle.” Vanity Fair describes it as “borderline unwatchable.” It currently has a 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes after 12 reviews.

Luc Besson premieres Dogman

Luc Besson arrives with Virginie Silla and their children Sateen Besson, Mao Besson and Thalia Besson for the Venice premiere of Dogman on Aug. 31, 2023. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Luc Besson arrives with Virginie Silla (center) and their children (left to right) Sateen Besson, Mao Besson and Thalia Besson for the Venice premiere of Dogman on Aug. 31, 2023. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Barbera was perhaps most defensive of Besson, the 64-year-old French filmmaker behind The Professional and The Fifth Element who was accused of rape in 2018 but was cleared of all charges in 2023. Several other women, however, claimed “inappropriate sexual behavior” by Besson in a 2018 investigative report by the French outlet Mediapart.

“Luc Besson has been recently fully cleared of any accusations,” Barbera told Variety, adding to The Guardian, “For which reason should we ban a film from [Allen and Besson] when they’re not guilty in the face of justice? Why should we be more strict against them? We need to have faith in the justice system.”

Besson’s new action-drama Dogman — his first since 2019’s Anna — follows a dog-loving New Jersey man (Caleb Landry Jones) who was abused by his father as a child.

It premiered on Aug. 31 inside the Palazzo del Cinema to a nearly six-minute standing ovation that moved Besson to tears, according to Deadline, whose critic Damon Wise raved about the “boisterously insane action thriller.”

Other reviewers have not been so kind. “Bludgeoningly obvious, creatively inert, deathly dull,” wrote Variety’s Jessica Kiang.

Dogman currently has a meager 46% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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