Trump film director defends rape scene as lawsuit looms

Maria Bakalova and Sebastian Stan star in Ali Abbasi's film 'The Apprentice'

The director of an explosive biopic that shows Donald Trump raping his wife defended the controversial scene on Tuesday, telling AFP the alleged incident is “well known” and shed light on the ex-president’s character.

“The Apprentice”, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, traces Trump’s origins as an ambitious young property developer in 1970s and 1980s New York.

Donald Trump’s team has vowed to sue the producers, calling it “garbage” and “pure malicious defamation”.

The most controversial scene is that of Trump raping his first wife, Ivana, after she belittles him for growing fat and bald.

“This particular thing is very well known. This incident, Ivana Trump said it under deposition, under oath,” said the filmmaker, Ali Abbasi.

In real life, Ivana made the accusation during divorce proceedings but later rescinded the allegation. She died in 2022.

Asked why the scene was included, Abbasi said the movie is “about how, point by point, bit by bit, (Trump) distances himself from those human relationships that define him and that hold him in check as a human being.

“Ivana’s relationship is super-important, obviously. Ivana is someone who is very close to him.”

Sebastian Stan, best known from Marvel superhero films, stars as Trump, while Jeremy Strong of “Succession” fame plays his ruthless mentor and attorney Roy Cohn.

Both received glowing reviews from critics.

Other unflattering scenes show Trump suffering erectile dysfunction, and undergoing liposuction and surgery for hair loss.

But the film overall offers a nuanced account, depicting an ambitious but naive social climber whose decency erodes as he learns the dark arts of dealmaking and power.

“A lot of the behaviour and the personality is much more relatable than we want to admit,” Stan told AFP.

Abbasi suggested that “Donald’s team should wait to watch the movie before they start suing us.”

“I don’t necessarily think this is a movie that he would dislike… I think he would be surprised,” he said.

‘Garbage’: Trump team

In a statement, Trump’s campaign communications director Steven Cheung said a lawsuit would be filed “to address the blatantly false assertions from these pretend filmmakers”.

“This garbage is pure fiction which sensationalises lies that have been long debunked,” added Cheung.

“The Apprentice” premiered while Trump is on trial in Manhattan for a tawdry scandal involving a porn star.

It comes just months ahead of the US presidential election in which Trump is expected to face Joe Biden.

“We have a promotional event coming up called the US elections that is going to help us with the movie,” joked Abbasi, suggesting it could be released around the second Biden-Trump debate in September.

“The Apprentice” begins with a young Trump, obsessed with joining the city’s elite and dreaming of his own luxury hotel.

His life is transformed by an encounter with Cohn, whose nihilistic lessons such as “admit nothing, deny everything” and “attack, attack, attack” will become Trump’s manifesto in later life.

Cohn made his name as a fearsome lawyer by hunting Communists for Senator Joseph McCarthy, and sending Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair.

‘Rock certain boats’

The screenplay was written by Gabriel Sherman, a journalist who covered real estate for the New York Observer and regularly spoke to Trump.

He said the film was blocked by top Hollywood executives, and was ultimately funded by the Canadian, Irish and Danish governments.

“We couldn’t make it in the American system,” Sherman said.

“Hollywood in many ways doesn’t want to rock certain boats.”

The film is one of 22 in competition for the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or.

A jury headed by “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig will unveil its winner on Saturday.

Asked whether it was possible for an American woman to be objective in judging a film about Trump, Gerwig said she would come to the movie with “an open mind and an open heart”.

Tuesday brought the Cannes premieres of Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s Naples love letter “Parthenope”, and bizarre French meta drama “Marcello Mio” from Christophe Honore.

US arthouse darling Sean Baker’s “Anora,” a modern Cinderella story about a stripper, was hailed by Variety as the festival’s “uncut gem”.

And French athletes carried the Olympic torch up the red carpet, as it makes its way toward the capital for the Summer Olympics.


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