Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Ninth Gate

Based on the novel El Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Ninth Gate is the story of a rare book dealer asked by a book collector to find a rare book that features elements of the occult as he finds himself dealing with all sorts of trouble. Directed by Roman Polanski and screenplay by Polanski, John Brownjohn, and Enrique Urbizu, the film is an exploration of a man who delves into strange encounters with the occult as he travels around Europe to find this book unaware of its content. Starring Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, Barbara Jefford, and Frank Langella. The Ninth Gate is an intriguing and entertaining thriller from Roman Polanski.

Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a rare book dealer who likes to make deals for large sums of money as he’s called upon by wealthy book collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to find two additional copies of a book he has called The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows that he had just bought from a man who just killed himself. Corso takes the job to find the two books as he later meets the dead man’s widow Liane Telfer (Lena Olin) who revealed that her husband bought the book for her as she tries to seduce Corso in order to get the book back. Corso instead flees to Europe under Balkan’s orders as he travels to Spain to meet a couple of twin book restorers in the Cenzia brothers (Jose Lopez Rodero) where they show Corso clues about the book that could differentiate between the other two.

Arriving to Portugal to meet the owner of the second book in Victor Fargas (Jack Taylor) where Corso notices the differences in the copies as he makes notes unaware that he’s being followed until a mysterious woman (Emmanuelle Seigner) arrives to help him out in odd moments. Particularly when Corso realizes someone is after the other copies as he goes to Paris to meet the owner of the third book in another collector in Baroness Frida Kessler who refuses Corso knowing who is his employer until Corso shows her something. Yet, trouble brews as Corso realizes that he is being followed a man (Tony Amoni) until the mysterious woman saves him. After discovering what all three books contain in their differences, Corso and the mysterious woman realize that Liane Telfer is after them for her own Satanic ceremony. Yet, Corso learns that something else happens during the ceremony that would change things as he decides to become more involved.

The film is essentially the story of a sleazy rare book dealer who is asked by a wealthy collector to find copies of two other books to see which one is authentic. Yet, he realizes that he finds himself in all sorts of trouble that involves the occult and other strange forces that wants the content of the book for reasons that he doesn’t understand. It’s a premise that is interesting as it features not just a lot of ambiguity but also a bit of humor as Roman Polanski and his co-writers take their time to poke fun a bit at the occult while playing around with the usual schematics where characters are killed off while some things are left unanswered. Still, Polanski and his co-writers are able to create characters that are interesting like Dean Corso who is kind of a sleazebag in the way he makes deals but does become aware that there’s some things more important than money.

Polanski’s direction is definitely stylish as he shoots the film largely in Paris and various locations in Spain and Portugal. Through some amazing compositions and extravagant set pieces, Polanski creates a film that is about a man’s encounter with the occult. Even as Polanski uses suspense as something to help tell the story while playing around with it. One major flaw in the film is Polanski’s use of visual effects backdrops which do become distracting and feels fake. Particularly in a few sequences set in New York City for some of its exteriors except for some shots that were actually set in Paris. The film’s ending is also quite ambiguous into not just who the mysterious woman that Corso meets but also everything else he had gone through. Overall, Polanski creates a very engaging and witty thriller that plays around with its conventions and keep things exciting.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji does excellent work with film‘s very colorful and stylish photography from the naturalistic look of the exterior locations to more exotic scenes at night in its interior and exteriors including the film‘s climax. Editor Herve de Luze does nice work with the editing to create some stylish cuts to help the film move quite briskly while slowing things down for its suspenseful moments. Production designer Dean Tavoularis, along with set decorator Philippe Turlure and art director Gerard Viard, does fantastic work with the set pieces such as Balkan‘s room of books as well as the look of the mansion where Liane does her ceremony.

Costume designer Anthony Powell does terrific work with the costumes from the more casual clothes of the mysterious woman to the more posh clothing of Liane Telfer. The visual effects work of Johann Quere is decent at times for some scenes though the backdrops are very dodgy in their look. Sound editor Laurent Quaglio does wonderful work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of some of the locations including some of the film‘s more suspenseful moments. The film’s music by Wojciech Kilar is great for its orchestral bombast and serene themes to play up not just its suspense but also in some light-hearted themes to play up its humor.

The casting by Howard Feuer is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some noteworthy small performances from James Russo as Corso’s friend Bernie, Tony Amoni as Liane’s bodyguard, Jose Lopez Rodero as the Ceniza brothers, and Jack Taylor as the book collector Victor Fargas. Barbara Jefford is excellent as the very eccentric collector Baroness Frida Kessler while Lena Olin is wonderful as the very crazed Liane Telfer. Emmanuelle Seigner is superb as the mysterious woman who helps Corso as she has this strange but evocative presence that has humor but also an air of ambiguity. Frank Langella is terrific as the very ambiguous Boris Balkan who craves to have these three books to see which one is authentic only to reveal his true intentions. Finally, there’s Johnny Depp in a remarkable performance as Dean Corso as a man who is quite quirky but also a bit of a dick as he finds himself unaware of the trouble he brings as it’s a very witty performance from Depp who allows his character to display some humility.

The Ninth Gate is a very good and fun suspense-thriller from Roman Polanski that features top-notch performances from Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, and Emmanuelle Seigner. While it doesn’t rank up there with some of Polanski’s more regarded films, it’s still a film that is entertaining. Particularly as it refuses to take itself seriously despite some of the flaws the film has. In the end, The Ninth Gate is a terrific film from Roman Polanski.

Roman Polanski Films: Knife in the Water - Repulsion - Cul-de-Sac - The Fearless Vampire Killers - Rosemary's Baby - Macbeth (1971 film) - (What?) - Chinatown - The Tenant - Tess - (Pirates (1986 film)) - Frantic - Bitter Moon - Death and the Maiden - The Pianist - Oliver Twist (2005 film) - The Ghost Writer - Carnage - (Venus in Fur) - (Based on a True Story) - (An Officer and a Spy) - (The Palace)

© thevoid99 2012


Chris said...

I quite like The Ninth Gate, and enjoy the twists and turns of the story.

thevoid99 said...

I think it's a minor Polanski film but I'll take a minor Polanski over everything else. It's quite fun to watch.

Lord Stansted said...

I regard the Ninth Gate as the great film ever! The thing is, it's not about the occult but a journey from childhood (remenber, "sisi mama"?) to a realisation of what life is about (for you). Those "critics" who thought it was another "horror" movie are idiots and best ignored.

thevoid99 said...

@Lord Stansted-OK then. I think it's a good film but it's minor Polanski.