Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Based on the novel Lunes de fiel (Evil Angels) by Pascal Bruckner, Bitter Moon is the story of a British couple on a honeymoon cruise ship in the Mediterranean where they meet a Frenchwoman and her American husband who tells the British man the story of their marriage. Directed by Roman Polanski and screenplay by Polanski, Gerard Brach, and John Brownjohn with screen story and contributions by Jeff Gross, the film is a study of marriage and desire where two men converse about passion and desire as well as the dangers that occur in a relationship. Starring Peter Coyote, Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Victor Banerjee. Bitter Moon is a wild yet exhilarating film from Roman Polanski.
Set mainly on a Mediterranean cruise ship towards Istanbul during the Christmas holiday, the film revolves around a British couple on their honeymoon as they meet a young Frenchwoman and her paralyzed American husband where the latter tells the British man the story of their love affair leading to all sorts of intrigue and attraction towards the Frenchwoman. It’s a film that is an exploration of passion in marriage where a man is fascinated yet shocked by the stories of this paraplegic whose wife is a beautiful yet troubled woman. The film’s screenplay by Roman Polanski, Gerard Bach, and John Brownjohn maintains a back-and-forth narrative where Oscar Benton (Peter Coyote) tells Nigel Dobson (Hugh Grant) the story of his marriage and relationship with Micheline “Mimi” Bouvier (Emmanuelle Seigner) from the moment they met to the time they got married after he had been paralyzed.
Much of the film has Benton tell Dobson this story as each act ends with Dobson telling his wife Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) about what he’s heard as she is disgusted by the stories preferring to play bridge or chat with an Indian gentleman in Mr. Singh (Victor Banerjee) who is onboard with his daughter Amrita (Sophie Patel) whom Fiona is fascinated by. Dobson is reluctant to hear more of Benton’s story as it relates to his relationship with Mimi in Paris as the first act is about the sense of adventure and passion they had. The second act is about the disintegration of that relationship due to his lack of interest towards Mimi where he would humiliate her publicly as she changes her looks and becomes needy. The second act does meander due to tonal issues as it delves into dark comedy and drama with Dobson becoming confused but also aroused by Mimi in her activities on the cruise. Yet, it would lead to this third act that is about how Benton got paralyzed and the relationship with Mimi in its current state.
Polanski’s direction is definitely wild in terms of the activities that Benton and Mimi do as well as how they humiliate each other just to turn themselves on. Shot mainly in Paris as well on an actual cruise ship and on studio sets in Paris, the film does play into two different worlds from the claustrophobic feel of the interior cruise hallways to the more open yet chaotic world of Paris. Polanski would use a lot of wide and medium shots to play into the locations of Paris while emphasizing on the latter and close-ups for the scenes at Benton’s apartment where he and Mimi would engage in ideas of sadomasochism and other sexual activity to express their passion for each other where it starts off with an air of innocence. Notably in a moment that plays into this innocence and passion for love is shown during a scene at a skydiver ride where they reach their hands as if there’s an element of fantasy. There’s a liveliness in the way Polanski play into the idea of sadomasochism and bondage where it is innocent until the second act where Benton becomes mean towards Mimi.
The scenes on the cruise ship are more constrained due to its claustrophobic tone in the rooms and interior hallways yet does have a sense of calm on the decks and at the main hall for meals and at the climatic New Year’s Eve party. Despite some of the tonal issues in the film’s second act, Polanski does maintain that air of intrigue and dark humor that play into Benton’s desire to humiliate Mimi at social gatherings and such. Polanski would also play into this intrigue as it relates to Dobson who finds himself attracted to Mimi but doesn’t want his wife to know while he’s unsure if Mimi and Benton are playing him or want him for something. The New Year’s Eve party scene is where some big surprises occur but also play into the fallacies of temptation and desire along with the dark aspects of relationship forcing Dobson to deal with himself and his own marriage to Fiona. Overall, Polanski crafts a provocative and intense film about a man’s infatuation with a woman through the stories told by her paraplegic husband.
Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with the way the exteriors of the cruise ship are shown during the evening as well as the exteriors in Paris along with the look of the Parisian nightclubs that Benton and Mimi go to. Editor Herve de Luze does excellent work with editing as it has elements of style in the montages and dissolves along with rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Willy Holt and Gerard Viard do brilliant work with the look of the interiors of the cruise hallways, cabins, dining halls, and ballrooms as well as the look of Benton’s apartment in Paris.
Costume designer Jackie Budin does fantastic work with the costumes in the stylish clothes that Mimi wears including the colorful sweaters, sneakers, and other casual clothes to some of the wild and skimpy dresses along with the S&M stuff. The sound work of Daniel Brisseau is superb for the atmosphere of the cruise ship with sounds of water heard in the background as well as how music is heard in some scenes including some of the noises that happen for the scenes in Paris. The film’s music by Vangelis is incredible for its usage of orchestral and piano-based music to play into the drama and suspense with rich string arrangements and textures that add to story while the film’s soundtrack is a mixture of music ranging from artists/acts like Peggy Lee, the Eurythmics, George Michael, Sam Brown, the Communards, Gloria Gaynor, and covers of songs by Bryan Ferry, Stevie Wonder, and Lionel Richie that are performed in the film’s climatic New Year’s Eve party.
The casting by Francoise Menidrey, Mary Selway, and Bonnie Timmermann is marvelous as it include some notable small roles from Sophie Patel as Mr. Singh’s daughter Amitra, Olivia Brunaux as Mimi’s roommate Cindy, Boris Bergman as a friend of Oscar who often goes clubbing with him, Luca Vellani as an Italian cruise passenger who tries to flirt with Fiona when he took over for Dobson during a game of bridge, and Stockard Channing in a terrific yet un-credited cameo as Benton’s agent Beverly who is trying to get Benton to come back to New York City. Victor Banerjee is superb as Mr. Singh as an Indian gentleman traveling to Istanbul as he befriends to the Dobsons while representing someone who can show the Dobsons another way of life that is more fulfilling than what the Bentons offer. Kristin Scott Thomas is fantastic as Fiona Dobson as a woman who is trying to enjoy her vacation as she becomes concerned about Nigel’s fascination towards the Bentons as she becomes disgusted by his attraction to Mimi prompting her to show that she can be just as wild.
Hugh Grant is excellent as Nigel Dobson as a British man who is intrigued by Benton’s story as he tries to make sense of what is happening while wondering if he’s being played as he provides some humor as well as a humility in the film’s third act where he awkwardly tries to woo Mimi. Peter Coyote is brilliant as Oscar Benton as an American writer living in Paris who falls for Mimi as she represents everything he wants in a woman only to get bored and later succumb to paralysis as he tells Nigel his story with an air of discontent as it’s a slimy yet playful performance from Coyote. Finally, there’s Emmanuelle Seigner in a spectacular performance as Micheline “Mimi” Bouvier-Benton as a young woman who aspires to be a dancer as she falls for Oscar only to become desperate to please him to the point of great humiliation and later rebellion and unhappiness as it’s a performance filled with energy and danger that isn’t seen often in films.
Bitter Moon is a phenomenal film from Roman Polanski. Featuring a great ensemble cast, compelling themes of passion and desire through sex and humiliation, gorgeous visuals, a chilling setting, and a killer music soundtrack. The film is definitely an off-kilter yet intriguing suspense-drama that play into the ideas of passion and some of the fallacies that occur prompting another couple to raise questions about their own marriage. In the end, Bitter Moon is a sensational 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 (1979 film) - (Pirates) – Frantic - Death and the Maiden – The Ninth Gate - 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)
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