Polanski and the “ghosts” of power
Roman Polanski may not be here, but his presence is felt. Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, the stars of his latest film, The Ghost Writer [+see also:
film profile], presented in world premiere in the Berlinale Competition, have no doubts: “He’s always very concentrated on the set, he never leaves you. At least not until a little while ago”.
Polanski’s pre-announced absence from the German festival – he is under house arrest as a result of an old incidence of violence – seems to have shone an even brighter light on the new, Hitchcockian thriller by the Polish director, judging by the hordes of journalists that crowded the Berlinale Palast this morning.
In the film, a successful writer (McGregor in great form) accepts to ghost write the biography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (former 007 Brosnan), after the previous assistant disappeared in a mysterious accident.
The writer, known only as The Ghost in the story, goes to stay in the big house on an island off the East Coast in the US, where the politician lives his wife Ruth and his staff, led by the rigid Amelia, who coordinates and supervises the man’s public life.
However, the set-up, which The Ghost has accepted seemingly only for the money, soon unveils numerous dark sides: when Lang is accused of having caused the deaths of many English soldiers in Iraq, the writer uncovers secrets linking the man to the CIA and decides to throw light on the affair.
The references to the personal and political lives of Tony and Cherry Blair are obvious beginning from the screenplay, based on the novel by British journalist and writer Robert Harris, who sent Polanski a copy in 2007, before it was published.
“It is a Chandler-esque story”, said Harris. “It came about 15 years ago, long before Blair. I liked the idea of the relationship that’s created between a former world leader and the writer who has to tell his life”. Harris, however, also emphasized the universality of the film’s themes: “It is an analysis of power, not just Tony Blair, but a universal political figure”.
Building from this premise, which is contextualized in a precise contemporary setting, Polanski inserts new narrative levels and numerous cinematic references that range from Sunset Boulevard to his own Chinatown (1974).
However, the film is broken up into somewhat disconnected parts. In the first, Polanski outlines the subtle personality of a man who chooses to disappear to give voice to a more cumbersome personality, but loses the threads of the darker plots in the second. More than once he relies on naïve and disjointed solutions, in a not very original plot that often loses its rhythm.
The hand of the master can be found in the beautiful winter scenes though, with their de-saturated tones, and in the construction of an impalpable and gripping suspense.
International sales are being handled by Summit Entertainment. The film will be released in Italy by 01 Distribution.
(Translated from Italian)
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