Roman Polanski had delivered some years back the thriller ďFranticĒ, a slow thriller starred by Harrison Ford and Model Emmanellle Seigner, when he did Bitter Moon, a film based on the novel ďLunes de FielĒ written by Pascal Bruckner and delightfully photographed by DP A.I.C. Tonino Delli Colli. It was the first real hit Polanski had after he had his taste of a film flop with his epic period piece ďPiratesĒ (which was a financial and critical failure), and even though his last film was pretty good, it didnít had the success everyone expected. So, as this film got to the cinemas in the year 1992, this erotic piece came as a new hit in the directorís growing list of wonderful films and also brought him back to work with his love (he had married Emmanuelle in 1989 and has had two kids with her: Morgane and Elvis).
The film is a tragic erotic piece that features a fresh Hugh Grant, a beautiful Emmanuelle, an interesting Kristin Scott Thomas and a fabulous Peter Coyote. If the cast is not enough, the film features one of the most beautiful cities in the world (Paris, France) and a couple of sequences that you might never forget once youíve seen them (one of Romanís filmsí special abilities).
The sea (as seen in the Sage thesaurus):
Just as life it self.
As this film begins, we are presented various images of the sea, it is seen through a window, a cruise window. Life is vast as the sea, so is what lies underneath the surface, the imagery has just begun and it is already appealing, we are then introduced to Fiona and Nigel, a couple of British weds who are cruising towards India (as shown brilliantly inside the scene), played by Kristin Scott Thomas and Hugh Grant. By accident, they happen to aid a girl whoís sick inside the restroom. Later that night, Nigel finds the girl at the bar; tries to talk to her, but she, the perfect femme fatalei (Seigner), is not amused by him. As Nigel walks back to his wife, he is approached by Oscar (Peter Coyote), a man in a wheelchair, who happens to need a hand to get to the hallway that leads to the cabins. Instead of being a helpless man, Oscar turns out to be the girlís husband, a hard tongued man, he invites Nigel in for a drink and since Fiona is already sleeping, Nigel accepts. As they get to know each other for a while, Oscar tells him about Mimi. We are then introduced to her in a beautiful flashback featuring a sublime We are given a glimpse of heaven: Mimi sitting at the back of a bus; Oscar is watching her as he reads through the newspaper. A man comes asking for everyoneís tickets and Oscar is suddenly aware that Mimi doesnít have one and gives his to her. The whole sequence is a worthy beginning to a powerful love story, she is beautiful, so is this scene: the busman drops Oscar off at Rue DíAssas (Paris, France) and it works as the strong introduction to what we are to be told in the 100 + minutes to come.
Oscar used to be a writer who grew stacks of documents he couldnít get to publish, and he had fallen madly for the girl: he looked for her at the bus stops until the drivers recognized him. Until one day, he found her working at a restaurant and learnt her name.
Lavishly, the love story unfolds for us in a series of flashbacks that blend with episodes of the present.
But, this isnít quite Polanskiís usual style, is it?
If you have been missing the usual Polanskiís treatment (not that I noted an absence of it), you are about to smile, as the plot goes further, we find out that Oscar lived such a rich sex life with Mimi that grew until they had no more lust between them.
Wave after wave, the two stories unfold: Nigel and Fionaís relationship is about to go through a test and Oscarís tale keeps going sour.
Oscar nears bankruptcy and his relationship with Mimi dries out. It dries out in a farm, with a pig crawling in the bedroom.Soon, Mimi is flirting with Nigel and Oscarís story gets darker as we are told the things that got him into the wheelchair and indeed its better to watch it than to read about it here.There is a wonderful counterpoint between Oscar and Nigelís respective stories, Oscar is a stronger character and definitely steals the whole film as he keeps on playing with Nigelís desire to be with Mimi.
After he plays a joke on Nigel he tells him ďHave a heart. Donít be too rough on a man demolished by a love that was too strongĒ. He was conscious that they might have stopped for good at a moment, but they didnít, they kept on going and going. And so does Nigel, he just canít help himself from listening and then wanting Oscarís ďlifeĒ, they grow so far apart from each other that it is that precise fact that drives Grantís character.The real story is starting to unfold about now, we are to see the decline of the writerís love and life. As we approach the filmís resolution, everything starts falling off its place. Past and present catch up as Oscarís story comes to a tragic end, the love story is gone, Polanski navigates the cruise, hold on to your seats as you might experience turbulent waters. The turbulent waters of life itself.
The films flashback transitions just couldnít get better, there are ones that come to mind because of how they are done (those in John Sayles Lonestar), but the ones shot by Tonino for this film are amazing, subtle and instead of distracting they are actually so well crafted that they add to the filmís overall look.
It could be also polite to talk about the remarkable work with the lenses in this film, is not quite easy to shoot in tight places without having a distorted image, it might have been Mr. Colli, but it has been said that Romanís knowledge of the lenses is greater than most DPís, and it might have been a skill perfected while studying in Poland.