Roman’s other three-actor feature besides Death and the Maiden, and this one truly has only three actors. There isn’t another soul so much as glimpsed in the background. And it’s an amazing film – don’t know how I didn’t appreciate it the first time I watched, but that maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. Polanski has his actors pulling shapes, as the British say, posing to form geometric patterns across the screen at all times, like a suspense flick made by Maya Deren.

Married couple who seems more bored-and-businesslike than sweetly-in-love picks up a third wheel young hitchhiker and takes him along on their overnight boat cruise. Why would they do such a thing? Because the husband has an overwhelming urge to prove himself over other men and a penchant for playing mind games, and detects similar traits in the young man. Splendid ending: husband thinks the hitcher has drowned, swims to shore while the wife finds the hitcher still alive and has sex with him, nonchalantly confessing later to the husband. The husband drives away with her, reaches an intersection… turn left to go home, believing his wife cheated, or turn right for the police station, believing himself a murderer.

“Polanski was given a proposal to remake the film in English with some known Hollywood actors, but he turned it down as he didn’t want to repeat himself.” Maybe Michael Haneke has heard this bit of trivia, seeing how his own remade family-interrupted psychological drama has similarities to this one.

Cinematographer Jerzy Lipman (of Wajda’s A Generation) wouldn’t work with Polanski again after this film, possibly because he dropped the camera into the lake at one point. Movie failed to win an oscar for coming out the same year as Fellini’s 8 1/2.

Knife in the Water is playing at Emory tomorrow so I prepped with some early shorts.

Murder (1957)
A man is murdered in bed with a pocket knife. That’s all. Damn good effect, too.

Teeth Smile (1957)
A peeper is dissuaded from his pasttime by the man of the house. At a full two minutes including credits, it’s the longer film so far.

Break Up The Dance (1957)
A pleasant outdoor party. Everyone is having a good time until some miscreants hop the fence and trash the place. The first one with sound. All of these so far have been tightly wound, shadowy and threatening.

Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958)
Two men carry a mirrored piece of furniture. Later, miscreants (maybe the same ones) kill a kitten, annoy a woman with its corpse, then smash the mirror and beat up our two moving men. Defeated, they go to a barrel graveyard and get pummelled by a cop, then retreat back into the sea. This was probably my favorite of the bunch. One of the moving men later cowrote Knife in the Water, and the composer would work with Polanski through Rosemary’s Baby. Most of these shorts are wordless – probably with international festivals in mind. This was the first award winner of the bunch, so it’s paying off.

The Lamp (1959)
A dollmaker replaces his lantern with an electric lightbulb. The electric box turns into a demon and burns his place to the ground. Dolls missing the tops of their heads always remind me of the Quay brothers.

When Angels Fall (1959)
An elderly black-and-white bathroom attendant has color flashbacks. Second movie with animal killing in it, this time a boy whipping a frog with sticks, and the first Polanski film to depict the horrors of war.

Too many great shots in this one:

The Fat and the Lean (1961)
A flunky is serenading a lazy fat man outside on a hot day. Every day the flunky helps the lazy man hunt and rest and eat and cool off, then tries to escape and gets stopped, until the lazy man ties the flunky to a goat. Times are tough for a while, but one day the flunky is released from the goat, and works twice as hard to please the lazy man, planting flowers all around him instead of trying to escape when the lazy man falls asleep. I was impressed by the acrobatic performance of the slave. IMDB says it’s Polanski himself, but then, IMDB also says Polanski played the old woman in the bathroom.

Mammals (1962)
Two dudes have one sled. Each pretends to be injured so the other will tow him in the sled. My favorite bit is when one wraps himself completely in bandages, turning invisible against the snow. Weird that R.P. would finally make an all-out comedy the same year Knife in the Water came out. I guess even Roman has to unwind once in a while. I don’t know an awful lot about Polish film, but this came after Wajda’s war trilogy, a few years before The Saragossa Manuscript was made, and before Kieslowski’s career had begun.

Masters Coppola and Scorsese, who dedicate much time and money to the worthy cause of film preservation, restored this 1960’s Polish film and brought it to the States, where I’m sure a sparkling, freshly-subtitled 35mm print enjoyed an acclaimed week at the Film Forum. Then these giants, pleased with their accomplishments, went off to watch Tales of Hoffmann at George Romero’s house, while some fly-by-night company bought the rights to a video release, made a middling transfer and issued an interlaced DVD.

Alphonse is so goofy and weak-looking, even next to the flamboyantly-feathered Uzeda. I assume from the actor’s Polish James Dean reputation that this was an unusual character for him.

Rebecca Uzeda: Beata Tyszkiewicz also played Edith Piaf’s mom in a 1983 Claude Lelouch movie

I’ve just finished reading the book by Jan Potocki. The movie wisely cuts out the last half of the book and skips to the final couple pages, missing the Wandering Jew and about a month’s worth of the gypsy chief’s stories within stories within stories. And since it is all stories within stories, composed mainly of meaningless sidetracks (Bunuel was a big fan, and I’d like to think he had this in mind while writing The Phantom of Liberty), I won’t go on forever with plot summary.

Alphonse being told his cousins are pregnant:

The first person Alphonse meets at the haunted inn:

The whole thing seemed to have a more comic, amused tone than the novel – noticable from the first framing story (the titular manuscript, being read together by enemies during wartime, in the midst of a battle). Zbigniew Cybulski (star of Ashes and Diamonds, killed by a train a couple years after this) is our hero Alphonse, constantly having his honor tested by ghosts and servants, heathens and temptresses. He teams up with cabalists Pedro and Rebecca Uzeda and mathematician Don Pedro Velasquez (Gustaw Holoubek, also of Wojciech Has films The Hour-Glass Sanatorium and A Boring Story), hooks up with his cousins Emina and Zibelda, meets Zoto and his hanged brothers, and spends not so much time with the gypsy chief (whose name I’ve forgotten at the moment).

Young Lopez Suarez and his outraged father:

Pasheko (Franciszek Pieczka) was my favorite actor:

Good looking movie, straightforwardly filmed without stylistic excess or ghostly effects. The rumbling electronic music sometimes does the movie a disservice. I’m sure the cinemascope-shot film looked a hundred times better in theaters than on my laptop – fingers crossed for another revival.

I’m guessing Alain Robbe-Grillet liked this shot:

A Zoto brother:

This story (stories) was remade as a miniseries a decade later in France – nobody seems to know much about that version (not in English, anyway). The only other Jan Potocki adaptation was by Raoul Ruiz in the 80’s. W. Has doesn’t immediately seem like a filmmaker I must seek out, but his Hour-Glass Sanatorium does sound good.

An utterly boring and mediocre movie made by a Canadian TV director. Based on a novel, and I can tell. Seems like an adaptation, not as something conceived as a film. As a film it has no spark, life, reason to exist. Every scene is meticulously edited, ends exactly when you think it will end. All the actors seem capable (except maybe for the girl who played our hero’s first wife). Our hero looks a touch like Gabriel Byrne. Plot doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. Memory and mementos, moving on with our lives after tragedy. Tragedy comes in the form of nazis. I hate nazis as much as the next guy but that doesn’t mean the movie gets off the hook for being so dull. I just wish I had watched Black Book for the third time instead.