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Knife in the Water (1962)

August 12, 2010

4/10 Lazy Rivers

A bit too artsy-fartsy for its own good.

Knife in the Water is about a middle-aged guy and his young wife who pick up a hitcher after nearly running him over on their way to the marina for a weekend sailing getaway. For some reason or another, the husband decides to invite the drifter along after chewing him out like no other, so they set out for the open seas and thus begins one of the strangest and most awkward weekend excursions this side of that time they went to Bernie’s.

So aside from recently touting The Fountain as one of the greatest movies of the past decade despite my being the only person on Earth who probably thinks so, one of my biggest embarrassments as a “critic” these days is how wildly unfamiliar I still am with Roman Polanski’s long, affluent, and generally treasured career. You’d think that his making the headlines as the new NAMBLA spokesman as of late would have at least prompted me to finally get around to Chinatown or Rosemary’s Baby, but it wasn’t until a recent conversation with a co-worker who’s big into the whole French New Wave thing that I finally got around to expanding my horizons with this cheeky Pol instead of just calling it a day with The Pianist and The Ghost Writer.

As much as I’d like to say that I’ve been a goddamn jackass for bumping this down on the queue for so long, it’s usually not a good sign when you start a movie and then proceed to take a two-hour nap at the start of the final Act. Yeah, I was coming off an all-day training at work so I was a bit tuckered out from partaking in some thirty-odd icebreakers, but it really didn’t help that the movie got exceedingly worse from the time I woke up again and hit PLAY. But whatcha gonna do?

So everything that works about this movie leads right back to Polanski. There’s something to be said for anyone who can make a halfway decent movie that revolves entirely around three folks on a bite-sized schooner, let alone make it look absolutely gorgeous from start to finish, but that’s exactly what he does. For a debut effort, it’s hard to ignore his skill behind the camera and he does a great job of cranking up the strangely uncomfortable suspense when it’s not just dragging along. Man, beautiful cinematography, and for such an oldie, it’s pretty amazing how these fantastically simple images don’t feel dated in the least. A saving grace if there ever was one.

But then there’s everything else, and I don’t really know where to place to blame.

You’d think that one of the big requirements that comes with a movie making it into the Criterion Collection is that it’s been remastered to a point of near-perfection, right? Call me crazy, but those DVDs don’t come cheap for a reason. But oddly enough, this here is the exception to the rule as it seems like maybe 70%-80% of the dialogue was actually translated from Polish to English while the rest of it just sits there defiantly in its native language, leaving me desperate to know what in the eff they’re talking about far more often than I would have cared to. I’m guessing that a good deal of it is just stuff they say in passing, but it really offsets the dialogue as a whole and it does a huge disservice to the script when you have to piece it together for yourself. Why this happened, I have no idea, but one thing is for sure: it sucks. Someone needs to write a letter.

But that’s not the only problem with the dialogue. Everything about these characters, their actions and their conversations didn’t feel genuine in the least, it just felt weird and all too often lacked motive, explanation or normal human emotion. One particular encounter between the wife and the hitcher at the end of the story felt completely out of the blue and unprovoked and I really didn’t know what the hell to make of it, especially since it’s clearly intended to be a huge turning point in the dynamic between the three characters. I don’t know, there were a lot of times where the characters inexplicably go from one emotional extreme to another and not enough consistency in terms of maintaining plausible lines of thought which lead to plausible courses of action. Just too many “What did that come from?” moments.

The acting is fine from our three characters and I guess they do their best with the material, but it’s hard for me to develop a connection when I have no explanation for their wacko behavior.

If I had seen this in a Film Studies class with some hoity-toity prof analyzing the shit out of it, something tells me I would have come away with more than I did, but as is, Knife in the Water might not have been the best place to start my long-overdue journey through Polanksi’s life works. There are certainly some great aspects about it and it does edge towards something awesome, but I gotta say, “snoozefest” is the word of the day right now. All I know is that the next time I see this – which I hope to someday considering that people tend to hold this baby in very high regard – I’m bringing along a 5-Hour Energy shot for the ride and someone had better fix these damn subtitles.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2010 6:26 pm

    I don’t mean to troll on your comments, but your NAMBLA statement is inaccurate as Polanski’s victim was a girl.

    just sayin

  2. August 22, 2010 4:39 pm

    This was the last “major” Polanski I had yet to see – and I, too, finally caught up with it recently. While I think I would be a little more generous and give it a 6 or 7, and I didn’t mind the dialogue (perhaps something was lost in translation from Polish to English)…I do agree with the overall feeling of “what was the big deal?” So many people proclaim this to be a “perfect 1st film” and while there was technical brilliance on display, I found the story severely lacking.

    I’m a huge Polanski film, but his early films (this and Repulsion) I just “don’t get” – and for me, it wasn’t until he went to “balls-to-the-walls” horror with The Fearless Vampire Lovers and Rosemary’s Baby that I really think he got his mojo going.

    • September 1, 2010 2:41 pm

      Yeah, I did not get all the hype on Rotten Tomatoes for this one about it being the best debut next to Citizen Kane. Polanski’s no joke, but this isn’t on par with some of his other stuff.

      Fearless Vampire Killers – sounds AWESOME.

  3. August 23, 2010 7:13 pm

    Oh, that should say Fearless Vampire Killers…not lovers…this ain’t no Twilight, yo!

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