Director Roman Polanski’s directorial debut Knife in the Water carved a fine name into the side of cinema. Intrigued by the acclaim and career of its filmmaker, I had been anticipating this one for awhile. After finally receiving the copy a week or so ago, I popped it in to see what all the hubbub was about. Polanski is best known stateside for Rosemary’s Baby and his legal kafuffles, but it’s this turbulent drama that put him on the map. But while the hype may be there to support the film’s subtlety, this knife has dulled through the years.
A middle-aged couple Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) and Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) are on their way to a day on the seas when they pick up a young hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz). Giving the boy a ride to the dock, the three seem destined to divide and walk their own paths. That is, until Andrzej and Krystyna invite the young boy to spend some time with them on their small boat. Reluctantly, the boy accepts, after Andrzej bullies him into coming aboard. As the boat sets sail, so do a flurry of emotions, as a struggle for male dominance and female attention rages on.
I can’t say I was blown away by this film. There’s nothing mind-boggling about it, nothing to make us really think about what’s going on. Knife in the Water prides itself on subtleties, but they aren’t as subtle as we’re lead to believe. Consider the situation: two guys and a girl. The guys have a clash of personality, experienced versus up-and-coming. The female gets a front-row seat to the action and serves as sort of a sweat towel for the boys when they get too heated with each other. There’s nothing else to focus on, other than the small talk that always erupts into something bigger. For all I can tell, the two guys might as well be bickering brothers trying to figure out who’s the boss. There are times when this is literally exercised. The guys will stare each other down, spat orders, and even get physical once in a while. They tear each other down in everything and anything that they do. Subtle? Not so much. I’ve rarely seen a conflict that’s subtle in any film, psychological or otherwise.
On the bright side, Knife in the Water contains some very solid performances. There’s never an unconvincing moment in the film. For Knife, this is a very important aspect, since it plays so much off of clashing characters. Andrzej is the self-proclaimed skipper of the boat, his wife the de facto peacekeeper, and the young boy an inexperienced, self-proclaimed “man.” Each one of these traits is branded on the characters like a black eye. They can be very interesting at times, but there were occasions when the characters just got boring. Unfortunately, the bickering in here can’t carry us through the film. Sure, the psychology of the characters is interesting, but so is what took place in Watchmen, and that film had much more going on.
Ultimately, Knife in the Water isn’t as bad as I’ve made it sound. It has a good ending, especially once we absorb the final scene’s symbolism; it’s very dramatic and very awesome. The flaws that stand out manage to throw the film’s anchor into the water, and all we get is a circular motion from this tiny boat of a movie. Polanski’s first film is worth watching, but it’s nothing you should rush out to get.