Cannes Film Festival: Donald Trump biopic The Apprentice shocks audiences with rape scene

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The Apprentice stars Jeremy Strong and Sebastian Stan.
The Apprentice stars Jeremy Strong and Sebastian Stan. Credit: Supplied

The world premiere of The Apprentice, a biopic about the young Donald Trump, drew audible gasps from the audience at the Cannes Film Festival.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the scenes which elicited the shocked responses came late in the film – a sequence in which the onscreen character of Trump raped his first wife Ivana, and another when the character underwent surgery for liposuction.

In her 1989 divorce deposition, Ivana accused Trump of rape but she withdrew the claim in 2015. She died in 2022.

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Marvel and Pam & Tommy actor Sebastian Stan portrays Trump with Borat breakout and Oscar nominee Maria Bakalova taking on the role of Ivana. Martin Donovan plays Fred Trump, the former president’s father, while Succession star Jeremy Strong is Roy Cohn, the late right-wing firebrand lawyer and political fixer who was a formative influence on a young Trump.

The movie focuses on Trump’s rising prominence as a business personality in 1970s and 1980s New York City, guided by Cohn as his mentor.

Maria Bakalova attends a press line for Marvel Studios on day three of Comic-Con International on Saturday, July 23, 2022, in San Diego. (Photo by Christy Radecic/Invision/AP)
Maria Bakalova plays Ivana Trump. ( Credit: Christy Radecic/Invision/AP

The movie also depicts Trump contending with a racial discrimination lawsuit over allegations of how it treated black applicants for his family’s apartments, signing deals with underworld figures, failing to pay his bills and taking amphetamines to lose weight.

There is a suggestive scene between Trump and Cohn in which the older man grips Trump’s leg under a table.

Directed by Iranian-Danish filmmaker Ali Abbasi (Holy Spider, episodes of The Last of Us), the movie was met with a standing ovation that lasted from eight to 11 minutes, according to conflicting reports.

The Apprentice has also been the subject of behind-the-scenes shenanigans, according to Variety, which reported one of the film’s financiers, Dan Snyder, isn’t happy with the final cut.

Variety cited sources that claimed Snyder, a billionaire Trump supporter who has donated over $US1 million to his committees and campaigns, had expected the film to be “a flattering portrayal” of the former president.

A series of legal letters were volleyed back-and-forth between financiers Kinematics, through which Snyder funnelled his investment and the filmmakers. Variety said Kinematics did not have copyright of the film so was unable to “kill” the film.

The political sensitivities in the US could explain why most of the rest of the financing came from outside of America, including UK production business Head Gear Films, Swedish outfit Film i Vast, the National Bank of Canada, and national film funding bodies in Ireland and Denmark.

When the lights came on at the end of the premiere, Cate Blanchett was one of the first to leap to her feet in applause. She was sitting in front of the cast and crew and turned around and embraced Bakalova, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 05: Sebastian Stan arrives at the 11th Annual LACMA Art + Film Gala at Los Angeles County Museum of Art on November 05, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/FilmMagic)
Sebastian Stan out of character. Credit: Steve Granitz/FilmMagic

Addressing the crowd, Abbasi linked The Apprentice to current global conflicts and said, “In the time of turmoil, there’s this tendency to look inwards… to bury your head deep in the sand and look inside and hope for the best.”

He added of his desire to make a movie about Trump, “There is no nice metaphorical way to deal with the rising wave of fascism. There’s only the messy way. There’s only the banal way. There’s only the way of dealing with this wave on its own terms, at its own level and it’s not going to be pretty, but I think the problem with the world is that the good people have been quiet for too long.

“So I think it’s time to make movies relevant. It’s time to make movies political again.”

The early reviews have been mixed. Stan, Strong and Bakalova have been praised for their eviscerating performances while others have said the film fails to reveal anything new about a man who has performed most of his life in public.

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