Bit `er Moon - A review of Roman Polanski’s ‘92 Bitter Moon by Martin Higgins
Bit `er Moon A review of Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon by Martin Higgins
Thrity years after Polanski’s directorial debut with Knife In The Water – a maritime paranoia classic – he was back on the high seas with a cast of more seriously damaged characters and a bigger boat. Keep your eye on that ocean liner from the opening shots. Like his ‘86 Pirates – the film that all but destroyed the Buccaneer Genre – the boat is the only element in the film that is believable.
Some Americans remember Polanski for his one-on-one work with children, i.e., girl children, i.e., drugged girl children... or perhaps his Knife In The Nose performance as a hoodlum nicking Nicholson in Chinatown. But in Europe he is revered as an Old World artist, i.e., a man who is not constrained to follow all the rules or excuse his outlandish behavior – a psycho-sexual sociopath, with portfolio, sans culottes.
Bitter Moon, to invoke Old World cant, is an opus nauseo, probably a thinly-veiled Polanski roman a ‘clef, that mixes a cornucopia of shock elementum: seduction, straight-razor sex, seasickness, sleazy S&M, semiautomatic small arms, shipboard surprises, skeletons in the storeroom, Sapphic shenanigans, a superficial script, and salacious sidebars. Sufferin’ succotash!
Given this impossible storyline breadth, the cast is a superbly improbable mix who work seamlessly, albeit at cross-purposes, artistically.
Peter Coyote, the scenery-chewing, writer wannabee, plays Oscar, a scenery-chewing writer wannabee with aspirations of being the next Parisian ex-pat to write novels that will someday wind up on High School reading lists. Hoo-boy…somebody swallowed the bongwater!
Emmanuel Seigner (Polanski’s real-world, ex, er… wife?) is MiMi, a dimwit dancer who trades her disco-diva dreams for a place at Oscar’s feet, alternately listening to his pretentious prose and exploring equally ostentatious sex, fetishism, and debauchery with him. Although Emmie is an amazing looker, the hoofer angle is laughable. During one “Danse d’erotique” for Oscar, she prances around in a filmy poof, does some half-assed erotic stretching exercises on the wood floor, tosses her hair around like a mop, lurches up and shoves her knish in his face. Coyote stares at it as if he is trying to locate a worthy hidey-hole to tuck a couple of Benjamins.
Oscar: What happened to your dance classes? Mimi: Dancing has to come from the heart. Oscar: So? Mimi: My heart is broken.
Oy! Gevalt ist mir! The scriptwriter must have been hitting the Crème de Menthe when that gem tumbled out. And I thought Oscar was supposed to be the crappy pensman…
Earlier in the film, Mimi shook her booty in the ship’s bar and the result was equally as cockamamie – not a dance, per se, but simply a more-than-ample bottom, wagged back and forth the way one might shake a dog biscuit in front of an uninterested mutt. In this case, the pooch is Bloodhound-eyed Hugh Grant.
Grant plays Nigel, a dead-dick Brit married to a dry-stick wife, Fiona. This pair of East-End empty-nesters are on their way to India – a sexual pilgrimage, if you will - to “get them a Hindoo Mojo Hand.” Back Passage-entry notwithstanding, Nigel and Fiona radiate absolutely no chemistry or appeal, so one wonders what the original coupling must have been: a post-Canasta date mercy-bang in the passenger seat of an Austin-Healey 3000? Fiona helping Nigel discover he’s not a queer as he believes he is? A Pub bet for a sack of Hog Lumps?
At the outset of the film, these self-proclaimed bum lays have the unmitigated cheekiness to confide in an Indian passenger on the ship (the ingeniously named Mr. Singh) that they are searching for the “spark” to re-ignite their long lost days of sweaty, monkey humping. The turbaned stranger glazes for a moment, reeling in his jodhpurs, overwhelmed by the mental image of the two laboring at a huff `n puff love better-off lost. He imagines the Taj Mahal’s minarets drooping in abject disinterest.
Note to Academy: In honor of his performance in this wincer, Grant should legally change his name to Nigel. Nigel Grant. Or better still, Hugh Nigel. It would be much more appropriate in light of his hackneyed on-screen perambulations – archetypal name, archetypal behavior, requisite dopey grin - chock-full of misaligned off-white Chicklets - his rolled and pleated face, button-tufted chin, and, most telling of all, his obsession with adultery, gutter sex, and humiliation.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Oscar, replete with old-fashioned wheelchair, meets Nigel on deck to begin his dangerous ploy of “Wanna’ bang my wife or somethin’?” I say dangerous because what differently-capped person in their right mind would use an oak and cane-bottom wheelchair on the deck of a ship? No brakes – tiny shopping cart casters in the front – more like a rickety deckchair with outsized bicycle wheels in the rear. I kept hoping an unseen swell would make the ship lurch and send Oscar hurtling toward a nasty spill on the shuffleboard deck.
Of course, the enticement of listening to Oscar brag about shagging Mimi is more than Nigel can bear. He eagerly wheels the salivating cripple back to his stateroom to lay down a trail of breadcrumbs.
Mimi is desperate to find out if Nigel is her type – a potboiler stereotype.
Oscar has already demonstrated his skill at juggling words and images with all the adroitness of a skinny-stick plate spinner on the Ed Sullivan Show. He waxes horny about his first habba-da-goo with Mimi:
Oscar: Nothing ever surpassed the rapture of that first awakening. I might have been Adam with a taste of apple fresh in my mouth.
Note: He’d need one helluva query letter to get that egregious flapdoodle onto a publisher’s nightstand.
Miraculously, Nigel and Fiona come to realize how important Canasta parties are in keeping one’s wits about oneself. “Ambien, Dear?” “Lunestra, My Love?” ZZZzzzzzzz.
Next, we are treated to 20 odd minutes of faux tension (I went to the can and got a diet Dr. Pepper.)
Warning: SPOILER ALERT!
In much the same way the Kennedy death bullet defied Newton’s Second Law of motion, Oscar’s muzzled auto-da-fe sprays blood in the wrong direction - which may be an apt indication of Polanski’s ultimate directorial disposition. “Blow your brains out, improvise a bit, but hit your mark…”
We can only hope he realized how trite his musings were and decided to edit himself out of his own life.
Oscar: (We) lived on love and stale croissants.
Pass on Bitter Moon and go to Jack-in-the-Box and buy yourself some real croissants, made the same way they’re made in France – by pimply, disaffected Mexican teenagers.