Being the Polanski fan that I am, it struck me that I was still yet to watch one of his best flicks, Knife in the Water. So, trading in a night drunken shape-cutting for bit of DVD watching, I decided to satisfy my curiosity.
Knife in the Water is important for a number of reasons: Polanski’s debut feature- film; his only film made in Poland; first Polish movie to receive an oscar nomination for best foreign language movie; and the first screen appearance of Zygmunt Malanowicz.
Essentially a psychodrama, its simple plot, comprising a husband (Andrzej), wife (Krystyna) and hitch-hiker (Zygmunt) on-board a yacht in a vast stretch of water, explores the social, sexual and political, as male egos’ are flared and notions of knowledge and power questioned.
The film opens with a well-to-do middle aged couple driving down a deserted stretch of road in the polish countryside. Their age gap and subsequent frustration for each other are instantly apparent, as few words pass between them, and the husband, in a deliberate act of chauvinism tells his wife to swap seats so that he can drive. The couple are then greeted by the shadowy figure of a hitch-hiker in the middle of the road who refuses to move and is nearly run down. Swearing like a madman, the husband interrogates the hitch-hiker with all manner of insults, before ironically letting him ride. In an act of patronizing goodwill, he offers the hitch-hiker blankets and tells him to make himself comfortable, which the hitch-hiker, recognising the husband’s attempts to belittle, shows little thanks for.
What follows are scenes of one-up manship, as the hitch-hiker is invited on-board the couple’s yacht, much to his reluctance. As a battle of egos’ ensues, the two men play pick-up sticks, tale-tell and knife throw. A dichotomy between knowledge and brawn is formed as the Husband’s education in sailing is cast at odds with the hitch-hikers prime-ape abilities to climb the mast of the yacht. Krystyna all the while is both spectator to the dick swinging and an object of desire, which we recognise in the voyeuristic angles at which she captured on camera. This creates a triangular desire between the three characters: from husband and hitch-hiker thrusting a knife between each other’s fingers in a game of five finger fillet, to wife and hitch-hiker making out while the husband is out of sight.
In keeping with the tradition of his earlier short films (Two Men and a Wardrobe, The Fat and the Lean) Polanski adopts the isolated figure- empty landscape theme to great effect in this narrative, as a seemingly endless lake becomes a platform for individualistic feelings of self interest, cunning and distrust between the trio.
For all it’s simplicity though, the film doesn’t lack its surreal moments: from the hitch-hiker miming a run across the water’s surface while hanging off the side of the yacht, to a strangely hallucinogenic scene in which both men proceed to haul the yacht through an entanglement of reeds which dart across the camera like fireworks. Together with a haunting jazz score, Knife in the Water has all the makings of Polanski masterpiece, and paved the way for other such classics that would later follow including, Cul De Sac, Rosemary’s Baby and The Repulsion. Ranked 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s definitely worth a watch!