Sunday, March 1, 2015

Film Pairings — Two Thrillers From Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski

The director of, Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby is no stranger to horror in the cinematic world or the real one.  He was an all too young witness to the Nazi invasion of his native Poland. In the late ‘30s, his parents were taken to concentration camps. His father managed to survive.  His mother didn’t.  She perished in Auschwitz.  In 1969, Polanski’s wife, actress Sharon Tate, and some of her friends were violently slain by Charles Manson’s “family” and, for years now the director has been dogged by U.S. authorities and the international press for an alleged molestation of an underage model in 1977.  Today, at 81, Polanski rarely leaves France or Poland for fear of extradition to the U.S. where he would likely face incarceration.  While in exile, he continued to make movies.  One of them, The Pianist, brought Polanski another Academy Award, one he could not accept personally without risking arrest. The two movies below are not necessarily his greatest work perhaps, but great work nonetheless. They make for a night of intelligent crime films.

From Frantic
Frantic – A physician and his wife visit Paris for a medical conference. When they get to the hotel, they discover she has the wrong suitcase. While he showers, she steps out to replace some items in her lost luggage.  She doesn’t return. Harrison Ford, as the good doctor, gets a cold shoulder from the French police who believe she is not missing, but that there is trouble in the doctor’s marriage. Without knowing the language, or the city Ford strikes out on his own and finds himself in the middle of a smuggling ring with international security implications as well as in the crossfire between Arab and Israeli agents vying for the smuggled item.  Released in 1988, the thriller holds up as well as any Hitchcock film, perhaps better.  One of my favorites. Spending part of the evening in Paris is a bonus.

From Ghost Writer
Ghost WriterAlso a thriller, this 2010 Polanski film is more mental suspense than physical and alludes not so subtly to real life politicos (Tony Blair and Condoleezza Rice, for example). Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, Kim Cattrall and Eli Wallach are part of the fine cast in this award winning film based on the novel The Ghost by Robert Harris. McGregor is a ghostwriter helping a former British prime minister complete his memoirs. But the writer digs in a little too deep. Torture, anyone? Other war crimes perhaps?  Conservative Brits were outraged by the film. But that wasn’t the only event connected to the film’s release. Polanski was arrested by the Swiss while he was en route to an award ceremony in Berlin. The arrest was requested by U.S. authorities allegedly because of the previous molestation charges.

For the evening’s libations, perhaps Pernod or Absinthe (it’s now legally sold in the U.S.)  For those not imbibing in spirits, there is nothing wrong with Pellegrino. I know that’s Italian, but it’s better than Perrier and this is a Eurozone evening.

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