Monday, December 10, 2007

last winter i caught roman polanski's first feature knife in the water on ifc. i didn't know it was by polanski until i looked it up. i was so riveted by the experience of the film that i had to know who directed it. also, i hadn't watched the opening minutes to get the credits. neither did i catch it at the end. which is a long way of saying that when i read that the movie was directed by a 29 year old polanski and it was his first feature my mouth dropped. not because i think polanski is not a gifted filmmaker, he is, but that this film is perfect, absolutely perfect. not a note wasted.

i watched it again, twice in a row, on television night before last and this time gave up to it in even greater delight. the photography, the spare jazz score, the natural sounds, the claustrophobia of the sailboat, the editing and the acting create what is perhaps the most astonishing debuts by a filmmaker in post-war cinema.

the story is simple, a successful middle-aged man goes for a day's sailing with his young, beautiful trophy wife. along the way they pick up a young hitchhiker and invite him to go sailing. the tension between the two men, one perhaps losing his virility while the younger man is in the fullness of it, ramp up to a climax built like an elegant equation - the logic of their actions enfold with a brilliant yet violent clarity. the lushness of the young man's and young woman's sexuality is so much that when they kiss it is like an eventuality. it is raw, naked and chemical.

yet this film is perhaps one of the most cerebral films i've seen. i've used the metaphor of equations to describe the elegance and precision of the action. despite the protagonists' heat their emotions are all bundled within the decorum of their minds. which is illustrated by the end note when the wife asks her husband to tell her the rest of his story, a story he began on board right before he and the young man clash. the story being perhaps the portal which would allow them back into their marriage with the hint of a surface stability that would allow the couple to continue their relationship. what else is there to do once the bad things are said and done.

the knife of course is also a metaphor of the young man who is a beacon shining on the doomed marriage of the sailboat's owners. but it is also a real knife that the young man possesses which is used thru the entire series of events. it is the knife that begins the terrible rowe between the husband and the young man. it is the knife - the actual blade and the young man - that cleaves the married couple apart. polanski uses the knife as motif for the action and inner lives of the characters to a breathtaking degree. never does the metaphor of the knife feel oppressive or gimmicky.

i'll not say too much more. i'm tempted to write about this film as if everyone has already seen it. perhaps everyone has already seen it. but it was a revelation to me last year. this movie is a masterpiece.


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