Directed by Roman Polanski
My current obsession to some day have seen every film of Roman Polanski has brought me to this, his first film. “Knife in the Water” is a disarmingly simple film that starts off slow and maintains its methodical nature throughout. And while it’s clearly the work of a budding artist, it nonetheless remains restrained by the growing pains of the individual behind the camera, clearly learning for the first time how a movie is made.
“Knife in the Water” is interestingly the only film Polanski ever made in his native country of Poland. After this, Polanski would move to France where his next effort (the phenomenal “Repulsion”) would clearly be influenced by the New Wave movement going on in that country. And of course after that, it wouldn’t be long until he made his way to America and gave us the seminal “Rosemary’s Baby”. (After which, a certain admiration for younger women would send him fleeing back to Europe for good.) I bring all of this up because I think it raises an interesting question regarding Polanski’s sense of his own identity, which I believe rubs off onto this, his first film.
“Knife in the Water” is about three people trying to find themselves, a married couple and a young hitchhiker. The married couple have grown complacent with their roles in the world and the young man sees no sense of relying on anyone other than himself. Once the married couple pick this man up, thus begins a two-hour methodical dissection of the role strangers play in each others lives.
With this in mind, the film succeeds in creating an accurately portrayed window into human relations, where it falters is in providing entertainment. Quite simply put, the film is just too slow. Polanski has never (NEVER) created a film that’s moved quickly, but almost all of his other films escalate upon reaching a certain point. “Knife in the Water” never does. Sure, there is a scene where the escalation is supposed to happen, but it’s not delivered properly or early enough. The film is just too sly for its own good.
Regardless it’s still worth a watch for some of the interesting framing techniques and shots that Polanski conjures up. Like I wrote earlier, it’s a film that clearly has the mark of an artist on it, it’s just simply not enough to create a truly memorable film. But as a student of film it’s a very interesting viewing experience, charting the growth of one of the most important filmmakers of the last generation.
And since there appears to be no trailer for this film available to watch, here is the opening credit sequence. It’s weird and slow. In other words, vintage Polanski.