Résumé : Aims. To study at multiple frequencies the radio emission arising from the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0717.5+3745 (z = 0.55). Known to be an extremely complex cluster merger, the system is uniquely suited for an investigation of the phenomena at work in the intra-cluster medium (ICM) during cluster collisions. Methods. We use multi-frequency and multi-resolution data obtained with the Very Large Array radio telescope, and X-ray features revealed by Chandra, to probe the non-thermal and thermal components of the ICM, their relations and interactions. Results. The cluster shows highly complex radio emission. A bright, giant radio halo is detected at frequencies as high as 4.8 GHz. MACS J0717.5+3745 is the most distant cluster currently known to host a radio halo. This radio halo is also the most powerful ever observed, and the second case for which polarized radio emission has been detected, indicating that the magnetic field is ordered on large scales. © ESO 2009.