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Foreign Films > Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski, 1960)

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message 1: by Phillip (last edited Jan 22, 2009 12:00AM) (new)

Phillip | 10270 comments Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski, 1960)

I stayed home from work today with a bad cold, so I pulled a few classics off the shelf and snuggled up with a warm blanket and lots of tea...a perfect fit for this stark and claustrophobic drama set on open water.

minimum SPOILERS ahead...

Roman Polanski's first feature film begins with a married couple experiencing emotional friction as they prepare for an overnight journey on their sailboat. While approaching their destination, they pick up a young hitch-hiker and eventually invite him to join them. Once on the boat the trio collide in a series of dramas that explore class, gender, and age.

Polanski's visual style is something to behold on this first outing. The Criterion Collection twin DVD release also features several short films completed while Roman was attending the state school of film in Warsaw. These early works show a profound gift for telling stories with images; Knife in the Water boasts that talent, offering viewers impressionist landscapes and tightly framed odd-angle portraits that further develop the subtext of the narrative.

With a variety of reflections on class, it is easy to see how daring this film was for a young director coming out of a Poland that still rested firmly behind the Iron Curtain. There is a jazz score that echoes some of John Coltrane's early 60's recordings; the film presents ambiguous attitudes toward the rising bourgeoisie in Poland and an open approach to sexuality that feels contemporary. Knife in the Water was made at a time when these motifs were mostly taboo in Polanski's homeland. In 1960, Poland had only begun to observe the era of the cultural thaw that was spreading across the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

The thing that may position this film firmly in its generation is the pacing, which may read slowly on a first viewing, but Knife in the Water utilizes the stillness and quietude on the open sea to further illuminate the dialogue and behavior of the actors. The script focuses on the trio throughout and for the most part the action is confined to the sailboat - as in Hitchcock's Lifeboat, an effective contrast of open water and claustrophobic quarters is exploited. This allows for a thorough descent into the motivations of the characters. A 24 hour period is compressed into approximately 90 minutes, and on successive viewings audiences can see that not a moment is wasted.

The Criterion edition also offers an informative and satisfying introductory interview from 2002 with Polanksi and screenwriter Jerzy Skolimowski, who had previously collaborated with Polish autuer Andrei Wadja on his celebrated war trilogy. This is a strong debut from a filmmaker that has astonished audiences throughout the decades with films like Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, Tess, and The Pianist. If you're a fan of Polanski's work, Knife in the Water seems essential viewing - it earned the young director both immediate international attention and an Academy Award nomination.

message 2: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Great!! This has been moved to the top of my "must see" list which is growing at an alarming rate! I rationilize the fear of my mortality with the fact that if I keep renting films, I can't die until I see them all.

message 3: by Steve (new)

Steve | 957 comments The Criterion disc also has several of Polanski's early short films. It's a very nice set (par for Criterion, of course).

message 4: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10270 comments alex....i hear you. so many films, so little time. gives a drougy something to look forward to!

steve-o, yeah, i mentioned that above. there are about 6, all ranging in length and style. i really like the one where those bullies raid that party. polanski seems to like to deal with disorder, or with things that shake up an otherwise calm existence.

message 5: by Steve (new)

Steve | 957 comments Ah, right, sorry, I hadn't had my coffee yet when I read this thread. Have you guys seen Polanski's the Tenant? I think it's an underrated paranoid 70s thriller. (Maybe it's been discussed here already, I haven't been here in a long time.)

message 6: by Phillip (last edited Jan 22, 2009 08:20AM) (new)

Phillip | 10270 comments steve-o, no worries! how's the coffee this morning?

i think we were discussing the tenant over on alex's thread on rosemary's baby. yeah, i like that one a lot - just watched it again recently. i think i used adjectives like paranoid and kafkaesque to describe it. a great film....creepy!

welcome back steve-o !

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