Of Gods And Men director Xavier Beauvois and screenwriter Etienne Comar unveiled their Competition pic La Rançon De La Gloire (The Price Of Fame) in Venice today. They were accompanied by Eugene Chaplin, the son of a key figure in the 1970s-set picture. Charlie Chaplin is the basis of the movie because it’s his coffin that is stolen from a Swiss cemetery by two down-on-their-luck immigrants.
Based on real events, The Price Of Fame has received largely positive reviews here on the Lido. (I personally could have done without an overlong exposition and some frustrating scenes of huffing and puffing graveside…) Eugene has a small role in the movie that recounts the events of March 1978 when, a few days after his father’s death, a pair of Polish and Bulgarian men dug up his grave and held the body for ransom. The film switches the nationalities of the men with Benoît Poelvoorde playing a Belgian ex-con called Eddy, and Roschdy Zem as Osman, an Algerian husband and father who owes his life to Eddy. The film is a tragicomic mix that depicts Osman’s struggle to find an honest way to pay for his ailing wife’s hospital bills. Reluctant to fall in line with Eddy’s old ways, he finally succumbs when the latter comes up with a scheme to solve the money woes.
Beauvois was inspired to make the movie after learning of the events of 1978 and because Chaplin for him “is film… he’s someone who invented everything… he’s not the only one, but for me he’s the most important.” After initial resistance, he gained the cooperation of the Chaplin family, including Eugene and granddaughter Dolores who also appears in the film.
Eugene Chaplin said he remembers very well living through the ordeal for several weeks and the fear of not knowing with whom the family was dealing. As in the film, the intention of the kidnappers “wasn’t really mean,” Chaplin said. He added that when the graverobbers led the family and authorities to the hiding place of the coffin, “in a field in the forest alongside a canal, it was magnificent; we almost regretted finding it.” At the site, there remains a cross on the spot bearing Chaplin’s name.
In the film, Chaplin’s widow Oona is portrayed as having paid for Osman’s wife’s hospital bills. In real life, Eugene said a wife of one of the thieves had sent Oona flowers as an apology for her husband’s misdeeds. Oona, in turn, sent a letter forgiving them.