Outstreched arm

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Three characters in a boat (to say nothing of the knife)

Polanski is a weird fellow, even if you focus only on his cinematic life. He doesn't seem to pick a fixed degree of weirdness for his movies. His new project, for instance, an adaptation of Oliver Twist, looks rather bland - but who knows.

His classic 1962 film Knife in The Water is often considered his best. Having seen it a few days ago, I still reserve that honor for Chinatown, though that's arguably the least Polanski-like movie as well. The script there is extremely fine-tuned, and this may be Polanski's problem elsewhere.

Knife in The Water doesn't have a bad story; it's just that there isn't very much of it. An unhappy couple - him, old, rich, and cocky; her, young, simple, and quiet - picks up a hitchhiker on their way to an overnight boat sail. There's some tension between the two men, obviosly, and this culminates in a confrontation over the titular knife. We don't find out much about the characters, other than that the hitchhiker is poor and jealous of the husband, while the is husband something of a stuck-up manchild; not very revelatory, really.

This is not too problematic, though, as the film is filled with masterfully composed shots of the three against the backdrop of the sea and the never-too-distant land. Jazz kicks in at all the right times and it all works really well, with little details anchoring the story in its time and place, lessening the metaphorical burden of such a lean dramatic setup. I hope I won't be giving away too much by pointing out that I like how Chekhov's rule about weapons in the first act having to go off in the third gets an ironic treatment here.

However, I am slightly irked by the descriptions of the movie as a "nail-biting suspense thriller." Poppycock. Just as the boat is never too far from dry land, so do the characters mostly stay within the confines of civility. The final confrontation isn't exactly explosive; if anything, it makes all three seem like believable human beings we can relate to. This is not a letdown, in my opinion. A more drastic resolution would have been perhaps too dark for the rather smooth sailing in the first two thirds of the movie.

A word of warning; make that a four-letter word of warning. The Criterion Collection DVD looks beautiful, but one aspect of the release is infuriating: the bad, sloppy, uninformative translation. I don't mean that it's just uninspired, though it certainly is that when it's actually present on the screen. The problem is that virtually half the lines don't get translated at all. This is not an Altman movie with dozens of characters talking over each other - it features all of the three characters, with only one (infrequently, two) speaking in the same scene.

Lines are dropped with no method or logic; sometimes they're easily interpreted calls and motions, but other times they're what seems like crucial dialogue. It's positively exasperating when lines are uncomprehensive in a movie as tight and talk-sparse as this. From what little Polish my Slavic roots enable me to understand, I think the translated lines were rather mangled as well. A big thumbs down for Criterion.

There are 0 Comments:

Post a Comment