REVIEW: DVD Release: Knife In The Water

Film: Knife In The Water
Release date: 21st June 2010
Certificate: PG
Running time: 90 mins
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, Zygmunt Malanowicz
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Studio: Odeon
Format: DVD
Country: Poland

This wasn’t Polanski’s first outing as director (that took place some seven years earlier) but this film had a lot riding on it, not only his potential career but also the current re-establishment of the Polish national identity. This film spurred the move away from Poland’s output of ‘boy meets tractor’ heritage films, as film historians have dubbed them. In 1962, a young director persuaded the National Film Council of Poland to deviate from this type of cinematic output and instead fund his small narrative driven film. Though reluctant - as Poland was still in a status of influx post World War II - the producer Stanislaw Zylewicz held sway with the powers that be, and the resulting film was Roman Polanski’s Knife In The Water.

Andrezj (Niemczyk) is a vain, controlling journalist who counts boat and wife (in that order) as two of his most treasured assets.

While driving towards a relaxing weekend away, cruising in the partially rebuilt Polish countryside, the couple picks up a dirty downbeat hitchhiker (Malanowich). Krystyna (Unecka) instantly takes a shine to the free living vagabond, which does not go unnoticed by her older, wealthier husband.

Once upon the boat, the two men begin a childish day of competitive one-upmanship not for the affections of Krystyna, but rather for their own male ego. Inevitably, this rivalry goes too far…

The direction is almost faultless. The restraint Polanski shows to concentrate on the story he wishes to tell and not get drawn into a bigger picture narrative is admirable. The countryside of Poland is seen through the farm land outside of the city, with only glimpses of the background seen as the boat travels down the river into a psychological heart of darkness.

Some would say that the film’s use of camerawork, or more noticeably the lack of, hints at a director either lacking in flair or uncertain about the vision they have for the film. Those criticisms simply don’t apply here. The minimal motion in the camera adds to the claustrophobia that Polanski establishes in the vehicle, and continues in the close quarters of the small pleasure vessel. Even the Mazurian Lake District, where the film was shot almost entirely, looks more like a single lane canal. The cinematography places the audience in a position where cabin fever is the most likely reaction from audience and character alike.

The dialogue, particularly between Niemczyk and Malanowich is excellent and the regression from supposedly mature adult men to children warring over Alpha male supremacy is so wonderfully subtle that it’s only apparent once things have gone too far.

All the actors are excellent in performance. The constant childish interplays between the two male leads could, in less delicate hands, come off as forced, perhaps even slapstick. The actors present such honesty and belief in the narrative that there is never any doubt of the male characters’ descent into immaturity.

Jolanta Umecka creates a beautiful and restrained performance. It is nothing short of a work of art as she carefully manoeuvres her husband out of the driving seat of their relationship and into her well worn passenger seat. Like a modern day Lady Macbeth, she plays an emotionally manipulative game of chess with her husband who believes they’re still playing drafts. To her credit, it is all done without coming across as a mischievous Puck-like caricature.

The choice to lead with a heavily diegetic score seems like an obvious choice now, but the decision to make a film with an almost non-existent thematic score was brave and extremely fitting. Shunning non-diegetic sound takes away another layer of filmic convention the audience is familiar with. This in turn reduces the audience’s ability to distance themselves from the events Polanski has set in motion, causing them to have to deal intimately with the tension portrayed on screen. The film abounds with everyday familiar noises - rather than allowing the viewer to take refuge in a flowing musical score, the tension is immediate, and brings itself into the intimate world of the viewer.

Cinematic cornerstones seem to appear after great times of national conflict. The Soviet Union had The Battleship Potemkin after the 1905 revolution, Nosferatu came post World War 1 and the fall of Germany’s economy. Knife In The Water taps into the fear of emasculation that many of Poland’s men were coming to terms with, and delivers a masterpiece born out of pain and beauty that speaks to a nation, whilst legitimising cinema as art for all to enjoy. DL

1 comment:

  1. little plot, little effects and set for nearly the whole film on a small boat but massive impression. This is a special film-maker at his very best - he would never better this film. if you love suspense Thrillers then it's an essental