Wednesday, July 15, 2009

KNIFE IN THE WATER (Roman Polanski, 1962, Poland) A sailboat cuts the waves like a sliver of steel as a virulent sportswriter tries to regain his failing manhood, swabbing the decks with a young na├»ve hitchhiker. The stage is set for a testosterone-fueled confrontation initiated by Andrzej, the middle-aged writer whose physicality is silently questioned by his wife Krystyna. Director Roam Polanski’s beautiful opening credit sequence obscures the faces of the couple while driving towards their destination, the glare from the sun creating an indistinct blur; an apt metaphor for their declining relationship. Their initial dialogue is unheard, unimportant, just another argument in a failing marriage, and when Andrzej takes the driver’s seat from his wife he asserts his authority. After almost accidentally running over a young hitchhiker, the husband decides to bring this stranger along but his intentions are vague: we soon discover that he wishes to humiliate this young man to empower his diminishing ego. The exceptional deep focus cinematography often captures the trio in perfect detail aboard the cramped confines of the sailboat: expressions and subtle nuances are important, twitches of a hand, a sensuous pose or slow stare of intimidation are kept in the same 4:3 frame! This creates immediate narrative friction because Polanski can minimize both edits and action/reaction shots. The tension slowly mounts like the waves of an oncoming storm, and while anchored in reeds they ride out nature’s tempest…while their own reaches hurricane proportions. In every duel, Andrzej must prove his dominance, but Krystyna is no passive participant. Polanski films her navigating the sailboat while the men bicker, as she grips the boat’s phallus-like tiller with complete control. The final confrontation leads to infidelity and a confession that stabs Andrzej straight through the heart; and leaves their relationship idling at a marital crossroads. (A)

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