Kohn’s Corner is a weekly column about the challenges and opportunities of sustaining American film culture.
This week has provided a confluence of controversial developments for the film industry, and I’m not talking about the ongoing writers’ strike. The first reviews of ‘The Flash’ came out before the film’s release, and while they’re decidedly mixed, the film doesn’t seem destined for the dustbin despite its ostracized protagonist. Ezra Miller’s assault allegations haven’t gone away, but that hasn’t stopped Warner Bros. from rushing their theatrical release plan and mitigating the Miller scandal any way they can.
Miller, of course, has stayed out of the spotlight as the studio built up the buzz. Tracking for the June 16 release in the unusual $70 million to $75 million range, which means it might not be the highest-grossing blockbuster of the summer. However, the hype machine has ensured that audiences won’t write off ‘The Flash’ along with its troubled star.
No matter how you dance around the subject, the firm couldn’t care less about the allegations against Miller. It’s another story for two octogenarian filmmakers revered decades before Miller was born. You can run away, but you can’t hide, from the talk of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski: both have new movies this fall.
On Monday, a day before “The Flash” reviews came out, the first trailer for Allen’s French-language “Coup de Chance” made the rounds. Shot, like Allen’s last several projects, with European funding, the director’s 50th film promises a suggestive love triangle with a dark Chabrolian twist not unlike his first-rate thriller “Match Point” 18 years ago. If you have any relation to Allen’s work beyond his problematic reputation, there’s reason to be intrigued.
My French is non-existent, but with a little help from Google Translate’s live audio feature I was able to discern the pattern of a thorny marriage drama in which a woman’s bond with her husband is disturbed by the reappearance of an old high school friend. Allen’s dialogue can feel a little stale or old-fashioned at times, but other languages can inject it with renewed urgency, as Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem demonstrated with their delightful spanish spats during “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
I’ve long felt that Allen’s film talk with respect to what he did or didn’t do was not worthy of endless scrutiny because the quality of his films weren’t worth the battle either way. “Coup de Chance” presents a different kind of puzzle, because it looks…well, pretty good. Is that enough for US buyers to risk? Even asking this question states the problem at hand.
“Bet nobody wants a headache,” an American shopper wrote me this week. “I don’t think they would give away the rights,” said another.
Allen’s films, after all, don’t come cheap. “Coup de Chance” boasts the lush visuals of cinematographer Vitorio Storaro and a large cast that includes beloved French star Melvin Poupaud; has a French distribution set up with Metropolitan Filmexport, which distributes the film there on September 27 (suggesting a launch at the Venice Film Festival). Ultimately, various production deals mean Allen’s work can safely get to American audiences via streaming without the hassle of a marketing plan.
“Rainy Day in New York” and “Rifkin’s Festival,” the two films he’s made since the American industry abandoned him in the wake of the #MeToo movement, eventually became available (and found audiences) on Amazon, the same company that offloaded its multi-picture deal after 2017’s “Wonder Wheel.” In all likelihood, “Coup de Chance” will follow a similar path.
Also in September (exactly one day after “Coup de Chance”) there is the Italian release of “The Palace” by Roman Polanski, a dark comedy set on New Year’s Eve 1999 in a hotel in the Swiss Alps. The film was co-written by Polanski’s fellow Polish director Jerzy Skowlimowski in their first team-up since “Knife in the Water” more than 50 years ago. Skowlimowski managed to sustain a full season of the Oscars promoting “EO” last year without having to answer for Polanski’s troubled reputation, but any company attempting to distribute the film stateside won’t have that luxury. To release a Polanski film is a death wish in America.
At least, that would seem to be the logic given that his latest venture, the Caesar-winning “An Officer and a Spy,” never came out here. Yet Polanski’s early work continues to enjoy a healthy living at retrospectives around the country. If the public wants to see the last of him, why shouldn’t a buyer take the risk?
First of all, of course, nobody wants the tsuri — but there’s a much more practical reason beyond that. In the currently challenged specialty market, the odds of losing money on the theatrical release of these films are high, and this would be true even if the filmmakers had immaculate records in their personal lives. The fact that they don’t just erode what is already a small chance of profit into a bump.
Still, I question the cancellation narrative in a world where Miller gets a “Flash” pass and films that – admittedly – look much better remain in exile. I’m not here to dispute anyone’s guilt, just to call attention to a double standard. Releasing a new Allen or Polanski film would imply not an endorsement of the men behind the camera, but an acknowledgment that audiences want to see these films.
I’m sure some readers will find the implication of support for Allen and Polanski also worth deleting in its own right. To be clear, based on all the available evidence, I find both repulsive. But again, the conundrum here has less to do with issues of guilt than quality. If “Coup de Chance” and “The Palace” have enough aesthetic substance to warrant the release of their work, getting them out there might be a headache worth having – for business and the state of a form of art. art. If truly no one takes this bet, it’s only a matter of time before they get here on VOD. As with “The Flash,” one way or another, audiences will have the final say.
As usual, I welcome feedback on this column: email@example.com