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In 1965, Cannes was repulsed by Repulsion, with Roman Polanski’s psychological horror film, starring Catherine Deneuve, being declined entry into the competition.
While no official reason was given, there were rumors that scenes of Deneuve, then 21, slashing an attacker to death with a straight razor might be too unsettling for a crowd that would include John Wayne and Sean Connery. (For its part, The Hollywood Reporter called the British-made pic “serious and artful” but described it as “one of the bloodiest films ever made” and said it should be “forbidden to children.”)
Despite the rejection, Repulsion screened outside the fest, with both the 31-year-old writer-director and star attending. For Polanski, now 84, coming to Cannes was something he’d first enjoyed in 1957. In his 1984 autobiography Roman by Polanski, he describes being a broke 23-year-old who wrangled a trip out of Poland under the pretext of visiting relatives in Paris.
Before going back to Warsaw, he writes: “I simply had to drop in at the Cannes Film Festival, if only to brag that I’d been there.” He met fellow Pole (and future honorary Oscar winner) Andrzej Wajda, who took him to a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (“Underacted, with sober camerawork and almost deadpan dialogue,” is Polanski’s assessment) and later had what he calls “one last cinematic treat” when by happenstance he shared a taxi to the airport with “an elderly Frenchman with a mane of white hair.” This would be film legend Abel Gance, then 68.
He was amazed the director of the 1927 silent classic Napoleon was still alive. (Polanski’s Cannes highlight in terms of being in competition came in 2002 when The Pianist won the Palme d’Or.) Repulsion went on to be a major hit, with its $300,000 budget ($2.3 million today), bringing in $3.1 million domestically ($25 million).
A version of this story appears in The Hollywood Reporter’s May 12 daily issue from the Cannes Film Festival.
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