Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Knife in the Water

(Nóz w wodzie, Poland, 1962)

The Criterion edition should clue you in that it’s worth your time, but still, it is fairly obscure. I first saw it in about 1967, at the Michigan State Film Society, and was blown away. I’d never seen anything like it … and I wasn’t quite sure what it was that was so different.

All these years later I’m a lot more sophisticated about film, and I can spot many things I wasn’t consciously aware of back then. Mostly it’s the incredible B&W photography. This was Roman Polanski’s first feature, and the only one he made in Polish. (The interview with him on the DVD shows why he left his native country. The nit-picking ways of cultural bureaucracies can be so frustrating and stifling.) But he managed to get this made with almost no interference. And it bombed in Poland, but did very well everywhere else.

Anyway, watch for the deep focus, the composition, and ponder the difficulties of making a film set almost entirely on a very small yacht with a very low budget, for a director who, to this day, abhors the “shaky-cam.” The camera somehow always manages to be steady and to show you exactly what Polanski wants you to see. He has an incredible eye for detail, and he works well with actors.

There are only three people in the entire film: A middle-aged macho man, his younger wife, and a young man. They are all in a small space, both men have something to prove, and the sexual tensions escalate in small, precise stages. You expect an explosion, you expect a thriller, but it’s a lot more than that. If you want cheap and easy resolutions, this isn’t for you. But if you want something thoughtful, rent it.