KNIFE IN THE WATER (Criterion/Morningstar, 1962) D: Roman Polanski, w/ Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, Zygmunt Malanowicz. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
a taut psychological thriller, Roman Polanski's debut feature has three people on a boat on a lake. It's Dead Calm with fewer weapons and more psychological twists. A husband - an important man in the right circles - and his wife pick up a hitchhiker on the way to the lake. All the tensions in their marriage are brought to the surface by the good-looking young stranger.
It's easy to see why the director had trouble getting this film past the bureaucrats. It doesn't fit into any of post-war Polish cinema's usual categories of war or patriotic stories.
It's equally easy to see why he'd soon be making films in the West. Polanski has a cinematic fluency almost indecent in one fresh out of film school.
Question: Polanski was shooting on a boat on a lake with a hand-held 35mm camera, so why is the camera work so much steadier than recent films shot on dry land with much lighter digital video cameras?
DVD EXTRAS: The second disc contains the eight of the nine short films Polanski made before Knife In The Water, including his award-winning absurdist allegories, The Fat And The Lean and Two Men And A Wardrobe, and his thesis film, When Angels Fall. New interview with Polanski and scenarist Jerzy Skolimowski, production and publicity gallery. And a unique feature: the new English subtitles were created by Polanski himself.
28 DAYS LATER (20th Century Fox, 2003) D: Danny Boyle, with Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris. Rating: NNNN
a nasty little shot-on-digital -video thriller from the director of Trainspotting and the writer of The Beach, 28 Days Later owes some obvious - and acknowledged - debts to apocalyptic films from The Last Man On Earth to The Crazies and Day Of The Dead. Cillian James wakes up to find that the world, or at least England, has gone away. The streets are empty of humans and haunted by "infecteds," the mad survivors of a pandemic infection.
After watching a lot of poorly lit, badly transferred DV films during the film festival, it's a pleasure to see a real director turn to digital video and treat it as something other than a cheap substitute for celluloid. Boyle, always a stylish director, succeeds in developing an effective aesthetic for 28 Days Later by using the medium's tendencies to fragment motion and show the edges of foregrounded images to striking effect.
DVD EXTRAS: Very strong extras package, including a remarkably apocalyptic making-of featurette, feature commentary with Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland, deleted scenes and three alternate endings with commentary, production and continuity polaroid galleries with commentary, storyboards, Jacknife Lee music video. Boyle's and Garland's thoughts on the film are actually interesting and to the point. English, French and Spanish versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
CRIMINAL LOVERS (Strand Releasing/CHV, 1999) D: François Ozon, w/ Natacha Régnier, Jérémie Rénier. Rating: NNNN
WRONG TURN (20th Century Fox, 2003). D: Rob Schmidt, w/ Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku. Rating: NNN
two teddy-bears'-picnic movies. That is, if you go out in the woods today, you're in for a big surprise. Wrong Turn works to revive the 70s rural horror film - see also Cabin Fever and the new remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre - but it doesn't bother with the period trappings. It just traps its protagonists, including Eliza Dushku and Desmond Harrington, in the woods, where they are pursued by a gang of inbred monster men.
Harrington and Dushku have some credits, so the film's a little more expensive than the rock-bottom no-name versions of the story. Schmidt, who's made a couple of Sundance-style indies, has an elemental understanding of the genre's Hobbesian imperatives, and he's got enough respect for them not to mess it up.
François Ozon's Criminal Lovers is something quite different. Natacha Régnier (La Vie Rêvée Des Anges) and Jérémie Rénier (Le Pornographe) are high school friends who commit a murder and flee into the woods. There they are taken prisoner by a strange hermit who has some peculiar ideas about how to treat guests.
If Schmidt made Wrong Turn as a straight genre exercise, Ozon (8 Femmes, Under The Sand) is after something far trickier. It's a thriller that is as much about gender perception as chases, and a horror movie in which it takes much of the picture to realize that the protagonists are the monsters.
Of course, Ozon is smart enough to realize that horror that emerges from the characters is far more interesting than horror imposed on them. Dock Strand's release loses an N for issuing a disc with no extras but a trailer gallery, and while the print is wide-screen, the transfer is non-anamorphic.
DVD EXTRAS Wrong Turn: Director/stars commentary, four production featurettes, flipper disc with wide-screen and full screen versions on opposite sides and different extras on each side. Deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, poster concepts. English, French and Spanish versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
TRICHEURS (Home Vision/Morningstar, 1984) D: Barbet Schroeder, w/ Jacques Dutronc, Bulle Ogier. Rating: NNNN
Director Barbet Schroeder - Idi Amin Dada, Reversal Of Fortune, Our Lady Of The Assassins - looks at perversely destructive behaviour with the cool eye of an anthropologist. As a result, Tricheurs (Cheaters) is one of the best movies ever made about compulsive gambling. Schroeder doesn't need to engage in the sort of philosophical self-justification that weighs down James Toback's The Gambler. Jacques Dutronc stars as a deeply compulsive roulette freak who becomes involved with Bulle Ogier's mystery woman and a gang of cheats led by Kurt Raab. Schroeder understands that in this world it's always four in the morning.
DVD EXTRAS Director interview, theatrical trailer, booklet essay on legendary roulette cheats. French with optional English subtitles.
ALSO THIS WEEK
MORTELLE RANDONNÉE (Columbia/TriStar) One of my grail movies, Claude Miller's monumental adaptation of Marc Behm's Eye Of The Beholder, with Isabelle Adjani (December 17).
NAKED LUNCH (Criterion/Morningstar) New special edition of David Cronenberg's adaptation of William Burroughs's unadaptable novel.
TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (MGM/UA) Long-overdue DVD release of William Friedkin's other great cop film, with William L. Petersen after Willem Dafoe's counterfeiter.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb