It’s time for another entry in my ongoing series about the Criterion Collection and my Essential Art House Janus Films box set. Only this time, I have something more in store for you, dear readers. You see kids, I learned long ago that it is not the destination but the journey. And that it is always more enjoyable to take a journey with someone else. For me, that partner on this journey is my friend Alex. We used to work together at DVD Planet and he still does. He is also a son of a bitch for purchasing the very same Janus box I own for one hundred dollars used. So, now we are going to be writing about these films together to give you more intrigue for your internet, more mojo for your modem and any other number of clever computer rhymes. While discussing the details over the phone, we giggled like school girls over the day when we would get to a film that we were severely divided over. Point in fact, it did not take use long to get there. Read Alex’s entry first, because my name is at the top of this page and I will have the last word, dammit!
Do you ever wake up in the morning with the feeling that something isn’t right? Everything is closing in on you while anxiety, claustrophobia, and dread creep inside you like a knife. Knife in the Water is that knife. Just like in Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski builds a solid thriller with slow hypnotic images that makes you wish every film was shot on black and white. If a somewhat slow paced film doesn’t spark your interest then stay for the beautiful and amazing cinematography that will feed your eyes with pure sweet sweetness.
The story is pretty simple; a couple picks up a hitch hiker while on their way to their boat for a fun day of sailing. It’s a good thing these Europeans have never seen a slasher film because they take him along on the boat ride. That’s the whole movie in a nut shell, except that there is this lingering tension that keeps on digging and digging a needle into your back and you have no idea where it’s going to take you.
With our knowledge of film, we all know that three is a crowd and one man has to go. A battle of testosterone ensues but in the European kind of way where your social class is attacked. The film is a hypnotic, thriller with social context, and to cap it all off it is also a feminist film that criticizes masculinity as both of the men go back and forth at each other while making themselves look pretty stupid. Not that I think Polish men are women beating assholes but the husband is king of a douche and it sure looks like he sends her straight to the moon on occasion. The film takes her point of view and puts the two men into her gaze for the majority of the film. Her gaze does focus on the young hitch hiker and she plays around with him by undressing right by him and trading a glance or two his way. Is this young man her way out of this marriage or does is he serves another purpose? Polanski does serve us with several references to Christianity but with only the young man in the frame. Maybe he is her savior, or maybe that what she wants him to be.
From the ghostly beginning credits to the final static image of a parked car, Polanski plays with our strings and never lets go. Unlike the majority of modern psychological thrillers, this film takes it bloody time developing the characters and building the tension between all three characters on the boat. And bloody enjoyed every single minute of this film. Good Day.
For what was billed as a ‘taut, psychological thriller’ I have not been more disappointed in ninety minutes of my life than I was with Knife in the Water. Indeed, the great composition of Polanski’s shots and the score that’s evocative of Bernard Hermann’s Taxi Driver theme does as much as possible to create suspense, but I haven’t watched a movie and felt so unfulfilled since The Seven Year Itch. Too obscure? Ok. Imagine Death Proof without the car chase at the end. That’s what Knife in the Water felt like, only in Polish. For over an hour, a couple and a hitchhiker ride a boat and do nothing. There are long glances, close confrontations and simmering sexuality that amount to very little. Few words are exchanged, even fewer punches are thrown and nobody gets laid. Not that I watch a movie for only those things, but they were leading up to it the whole time, only for none of it to come to fruition. Near the end, when it seems the hitchhiker might have drowned, my only wish was that it would have been me.
The underlying themes of machismo and the intellectual versus the primitive or uncultured were barely were paying attention to, as I was thoroughly uninterested in what became of the characters. I kept thinking back to Straw Dogs, which I found to be a far more satisfying movie about the same themes, up to and including the troublesome wife. Sure, I’m probably taking an extremely chauvinistic point of view here, but I have been a man for most of my life. Did you ever notice when two men meet in a film, they usually end up as buddies by the end? But, when you throw in a woman, suddenly they are at each other’s throat, vying for her attention, ready to kill each other for even the slightest hint of affection! How like life.
I got the next pick for our series and hopefully, I will choose a film that will give me something more to write about than just a few paragraphs about how much I didn’t like it. Nothing against the pedophile Polanski, but
Knife in the Water is available on DVD from Criterion and also as part of it's new Essential Art House Collection.