Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Just a conspiracy of cartographers...

I'm a big fan of absurdist drama - Waiting for Godot, about two men trapped in an endless cycle of waiting under a tree; Rosencrantz and Guldenstern are Dead, about two minor characters trying to work out what's going on, trapped again in the endlessly cycling plot of Hamlet; Six Characters in Search of an Author, again about characters who were abandoned by their author and take on a life of their own.

And hundreds more, Pinter and Satre and Camus - those just happen to be the three plays I'm fond of, mostly because they delve into meta-fiction - the idea that fiction isn't real. "No duh", you might be saying - but most films or books expect you to believe them for the duration of consuming them. Wheras characters in an absurdist drama can and do sit down and say "look, I'm not sure we're real..."

I find this fascinating. My line between fiction and reality has always been somewhat dodgy - I do believe that as soon as a story has been committed to paper, why shouldn't it be real? It's no less real than reading a story in the newspaper. You can say "yes, but the ones in the newspaper actually happened" - but you have no more proof, except the words on the page. And what is "actually happened" anyway? Your experience of the events is exaclty the same, if not more vivid, in a book. If you were to imagine that your [insert close person] had been run down by a tram, does the fact that they haven't make your feelings of sorrow any less real? You have the emotional experience - you can't throw it away and say it was nothing.

I'm going to borrow a line from someone else now, but it's a thought I had independantly too, he just puts it very well. If you ever cried at a film - E.T., Top Gun, Casablanca - while a "real life" tragedy has left you unmoved, then what the hell is the difference? Sure - you feel bad about the war/famine/disease/disaster, but in a distant, "bad things happen", nothing I can do to help way. You can't do anything to help E.T. either, mate. Because he's not real. So why are you reaching for kleenex?

With that in mind, and if you're not already calling men in nice shiny white suits to take me away, you can understand why I'd find metatheatre fascinating.

And so we come onto Knife in the Water, a film I positively loathed throughout for various reasons I'll discuss in a minute, until it got to the end and I realised what it was. Absurdist drama!

Look at the hallmarks - mundane, repetitive dialogue. Pointless plot. A location without time, personality, or recognisable features. We're pretty sure it's Poland, and at one point we know it's 5AM. But apart from that, it could be anywhere. And the time/place is meaningless anyway, as the characters are archetypes, one without a name. The Hiker comes and goes out of nowhere, as if he has spent his entire existance waiting by that roadside, and ceases to exist as soon as he gets off the boat. Imagine he's a ghost if you like, only there to spark off the situation. He's a walking plot device. When Andrzej swims off, he seems to disappear. Because they're characters who have no life outside the immediate story.

They do mention other people - the seamen, some parents, the man who could beat Andrzej at jacksticks. But the Hiker's backstory is conveyed only through Krystina's surmises, she has no backstory at all, and all we know about Andrzej is that he is successful, and there's an abstract "meeting" he needs to be at. We see no one else, and no proof of anyone else, in the film. Andrzej himself seems to be conscious of this - assuming the windscreen wipers won't be pinched. Who would steal them? Everyone in that world is on the boat. Which makes their later theft even more surreal.

Even if you don't agree with me, see at least that they are sailing through an empty world. Someone on IMDb suggested that they already knew each other, and I can see where they're coming from: they do seem to be aware of something out of the ordinary. I found the characterisation very uneven and bizzare, as if Andrzej knows he has to invite the guy aboard, even though there's no good reason for him to do so.

The film ends as it begins, preparing the boat, driving off, driving on the road, and you know nothing has changed. The Hiker will stay a daredevil showoff. The couple will stay married. It's my avowed opinion that the three of them are stuck together in this empty, foggy nowhere - emphasised most strongly by the final shot of the car paused at the crossroads. You just know they're going to be there forever. If they went looking for the police, can you imagine them actually finding them?

Even if you don't go as far as me, you can't deny it does have overlaps with the absurdist/existentialist genre. Certainly, looking at the story that way gives an added layer of interest to a film which really, I did not think much of.

It's only 90 minutes - that's shorter than Reservoir Dogs - but boy does it drag. They eat. They posture. They squabble, in a masculine way, about pretty much everything. Sure, it's minimalist, and I appreciate the mounting tension is meant to be gradually conveyed in looks and mundane lines. But something gets lost in translation, and perhaps the fact I knew what they were trying to do dulled its impact on me. It doesn't build and simmer, just comes and goes. Every time the titular knife was produced, it should have produced absolute terror. Maybe it does on other people. When it comes to the climax, it should be at a point where violence is unavoidable and the only solution. Actually, it seems arbritary, like someone is telling the characters that it's time to wrap the story up.

I can see it has merit, and I wish I could appreciate it - but it missed me on an emotional level entirely. Which is in itself a facet of absurdism, a deliberate distancing. I think it wants to be "psychologically taut" - for me, the technical term is actually "boring".

Krystina was by far the most interesting character, and that only when compared to the last fifteen minutes. Having been unimpressed with its attempts at raising tension, when things actually started happening it did get good. I loved the quiet way Krystina asserted her authority over both of them, after all the showing off; I loved Andrzej's guilt for something he hasn't done, and the fact his pride can't admit Krystina cheated. In my opinion, the film would have been better for getting here half an hour sooner.

It's very nice too look at, however. Polanski was trained as a photographer, and you can tell because the cinematography is just beautiful. You got a real sense of the heat, and the stillness, or the fog, or the rain. All was let down, however, by that godawful music. It must be said I'm not the words greatest fan of jazz, especially that noisy style, but every time it comes in it's loud and intrusive and makes me want to die. Again, I think the atonality is deliberate; it doesn't change the fact it doesn't work for me.

The question is, was it written as absurdist drama? Probably not. Mind you, there are plenty of people who are hot on the religious symbolism - most tellingly, the Hiker's crucifixion pose, the walking on water and the boat's name framed often so it merely says "Christ". A flawed theory, I think - because it's meaningless symbolism. The Hiker is not a Jesus figure, in no way (he carries a knife, no discussion needed), and what then does the imagery add to the movie? Roman Polanski has completely rejected that angle; and anyway, isn't he Jewish...?

..while TIME magazine describes it as a trip in a Freudian sloop; and I think you could make a lot of the Oedipal angle - the Hiker's poem is about his mother, and Krystina making sure he eats, tucking him in, drying his hair, is motherly behavior.

So why, then, should I not cling to my theory? It's the only way I can find to appreciate this movie...


Copyright 2009 Cinecism. All rights reserved.
Free WordPress Themes Presented by EZwpthemes.
Bloggerized by Miss Dothy