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If Two Men Are On Board, One Is the Skipper

August 28th, 2010 · No Comments

Knife in the Water 1962 Jolanta Umecka Leon Niemczyk Zygmunt Malanowicz pic 1

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.

Knife in the Water 1962 poster Knife in the Water dvd

Knife in the Water (1962)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Screenplay by Jerzy Skolimowski, story by Jakub Goldberg & Roman Polanski
Produced by Stanislaw Zylewicz
94 minutes

The biggest surprise in Knife in the Water is that the filmmaking is so in tune that the script doesn’t need surprises to hold our attention. Five years of study at the Polish Film School in Lodz led Roman Polanski to the idea for a feature length thriller to take place in a confined space, though the backdrop he selected was the Mazury lake district he’d camped and sailed. Receiving a go-ahead from “Kamera” Productions — a state owned film company in Poland — Polanski and his friends Jakub Goldberg and Jerzy Skolimowski finished a script in the summer of 1959. Skolimowski had hit upon the idea for the action to span a 24-hour period. Rejected by the Ministry of Culture on the grounds that the script had no social value, Polanski was given a year to resubmit it. By the spring of 1961, a loosening of Soviet control in the arts permitted Knife in the Water to move forward with Polanski directing.

Opening March 1962, Polish critics slammed Knife in the Water. Premier Wladyslaw Gomulka denounced it as a film that “displayed the kind of thinking for which there is no place anywhere in the Communist world.” But when it was shown at the Venice Film Festival in August, word of mouth began to build. The film arrived in the United States in October 1963 for the first New York Film Festival. A critical sensation, it even picked up an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film. Knife in the Water is an antidote to contemporary thrillers stocked with psychos or dead bodies. The subtle power games between the characters build to an inevitable clash while the nautical atmosphere and attractive actors keeps the picture exciting throughout. Krzysztof Komeda composed an elegant jazz musical score that is perfect for the film’s cool decadence.

Knife in the Water 1962 title card

The married couple of Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) and Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) take a Sunday drive in the countryside. Affluent enough to own a car but just barely able to conceal their contempt for each other, the afternoon suddenly becomes more exciting for the pair when a 19-year-old boy (Zygmunt Malanowicz) hitchhiking in the middle of the road is almost mowed down by Andrzej. The couple gives the kid a ride to a marina, where they plan to take their sailboat out for a day and night on the lake. Seeking to flex his superiority, Andrzej invites the kid to come with them. A drifter more accustomed to the woods than the water, the boy receives training in basic seamanship from Andrzej, a sportswriter and former sailor. Krystyna seems to enjoy the presence of the younger specimen, who reveals a switchblade knife in his possession.

Sensitive to being bossed around and dominated by Andrzej, the boy guts the afternoon out, perhaps due to his attraction for Andrzej’s wife, a skilled bosun in her own right. While husband and wife cavort in the lake — leaving the boy alone on the boat when he claims he can’t swim — the wind suddenly picks up and it’s Krystyna who climbs back into the boat and gets it under control. On their way back to dry land to drop their passenger off, Andrzej runs aground and when it begins to storm, the three of them take shelter for the night below deck. Krystyna and the boy wake early and feeling threatened by the attention she’s given him, Andrzej throws the knife overboard and in the tussle that follows, makes the boy disappear below the waves as well. The couple is forced to then decide what to do.

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Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average 1,989 users: 85% for Knife In the Water

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

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Tags: 24 hour time frame · Ambiguous ending · Murder mystery · Paranoia · Psychoanalysis

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