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Sorceress In White Sneakers

August 19th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Bitter Moon 1992 Emmanuelle Seigner

Roman Polanski was born August 18, 1933 in Paris. The sordid details of his flight from the United States in 1978 have often overshadowed discussion of the director’s work, which at the age of 77, includes one of the best films of 2010. Is he a world class filmmaker? In the month of August, I take a look at ten directed by Roman Polanski.

Bitter Moon 1992 poster Bitter Moon dvd

Bitter Moon (1992)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Screenplay by Jeff Gross & Roman Polanski and Gérard Brach and John Brownjohn, based on the novel Lunes de Fiel by Pascal Bruckner
Produced by Roman Polanski
139 minutes

It’s not clear whether Bitter Moon is a bad movie on accident or if its giddy banality was designed, but the end result is a debacle either way. Roman Polanski’s producing partner Alain Sarde had purchased the film rights to a 1981 novel by French essayist Pascal Bruckner titled Lunes de Fiel. Seizing on the salacious paperback cover, Polanski adapted a screenplay with Jeff Gross in Paris, while Gérard Brach and John Brownjohn drafted their own scripts separately. Titled Bitter Moon, the erotic drama was a French-English co-production shot largely at Paris Studios Cinema. While the finished film features only brief nudity and no graphic copulations, it struggled to find a U.S. distributor out of fear that it’s overall tone of degraded sexuality might draw an NC-17 rating. Fine Line Features ultimately released Bitter Moon in March 1994.

Like Showgirls, it’s arguable that the hokey dialogue and aberrant sexual situations were stuffed into Bitter Moon on purpose, maybe as a satire of holiday romances. One miscalculation is the casting of Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner. An adequate actress, Seigner lacks the charisma of Kristin Scott Thomas, who along with Hugh Grant — playing (what else?) a stiff, goofy Brit — are the redeeming factors of the picture. Peter Coyote (taking a role James Woods turned down) does such a good job basking his character in impurity that the act of watching him becomes repellent. The sexual encounters combine old fashioned sophistication with laughable sleaze, as if the men who cooked them up conducted their research at the Playboy Mansion. Vangelis contributed a musical score that comes off too overpowering for such a trifle.

Bitter Moon 1992 title card

Seeking a holiday after seven years of marriage, Nigel (Hugh Grant) and his wife Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) set sail for Istanbul aboard a cruise ship in the Black Sea. Fiona comforts a distraught French woman in the loo and that evening, Nigel discovers her dancing in the bar, but the precocious Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner) brushes off the stiff Brit. On the deck, a vulgar cripple named Oscar (Peter Coyote) reveals himself as Mimi’s husband and invites Nigel back to his cabin to tantalize him with tales of their love life. Oscar first saw Mimi on a bus between Montparnasse and Porte des Lilas. An American in Paris with grand literary ambitions, Oscar finds himself unable to write until he can reunite with his “sorceress in white sneakers”. Bumping into the apparition as she waits tables, Oscar asks Mimi to dinner.

As Oscar reveals the sadomasochistic routines the couple resorted to out of contempt for their co-dependence on each other, Nigel grows uncomfortable, but is compelled to stay and hear more. Seeking to end their relationship, Oscar concludes the only way to get rid of Mimi is to treat her as inhumanely as possible. After convincing her to have an abortion, Oscar books them a flight to Martinique, only to sneak off the plane and send her off alone. Two years later, a drunken accident cripples him. Mimi returns to Paris under the pretense of caring for her ex-lover, but uses his condition to exact a slow and bitter revenge. Oscar now gives Nigel his blessing to pursue Mimi sexually, but the Brit discovers his wife may be better suited to pushing the boundaries of marriage than he.

Bitter Moon 1992 Kristin Scott Thomas Hugh Grant

Bitter Moon 1992 Hugh Grant Kristin Scott Thomas

Bitter Moon 1992 Hugh Grant Emmanuelle Seigner

Bitter Moon 1992 Peter Coyote Hugh Grant

Bitter Moon 1992 Emmanuelle Seigner

Bitter Moon 1992 Peter Coyote

Bitter Moon 1992 Emmanuelle Seigner Peter Coyote

Bitter Moon 1992 Peter Coyote Emmanuelle Seigner

Bitter Moon 1992 Kristin Scott Thomas Hugh Grant

Bitter Moon 1992 Peter Coyote

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average: Not available

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Bathtub scene · Femme fatale · Prostitute · Psychoanalysis · Road trip

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Caroline Hagood // Aug 20, 2010 at 7:09 am

    Great write-up. I remember being so very haunted by Bitter Moon, but still loving it. It had the effect of the best kind of ghost story, but without the ghosts.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Aug 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Caroline: I’ve gotten more than one comment about Bitter Moon from cinephiles who either didn’t read the part where I panned it, or didn’t care. I think it’s a memorably bad movie with pieces that don’t fit together and a couple in Peter Coyote & Emmanuelle Seigner that didn’t appeal to me, but I love your comment and can’t disagree with it at all. Welcome and thanks for sharing your thoughts with the class!

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