Bitter Moon (1992)

Rather feebly, the publicity material for this makes much of the fact that Roman Polanski's first international hit, Knife in the Water, was set on a boat and so is this. Rather more relevant to the achievement if not the tone of Bitter Moon is that Pirates, the director's biggest international flop, was similarly shipboard. Although this would seem to be an attempt to combine the bleak black comic tone of Cul de Sac with the currently fashionable French amour fou genre of Betty Blue, it puts its foot wrong early and then stumbles for well over two hours before falling flat on its face.

On a Mediterranean cruise, caricature Brits Nigel (Hugh Grant) and Fiona (Kristin Scott-Thomas) run across crippled American Oscar (Peter Coyote) and his pouting French wife Mimi (Emanuelle Seigner), and Oscar passes the time by luring Nigel into his cabin to recount the sad story of his relationship with Mimi, an obsessive love that turned to cruel hatred, with each parttner enjoying a spell of total domination over the other. Nigel develops a wholly incomprehensible crush on Mimi, and things are set for an ending in which at least half the principle cast get shot.

Oscar is a failed writer, which perhaps explains the laughably bad prose Coyote is forced to spout as narration, but nothing excuses the tin-ear lines Grant and Thomas embarassedly trot out. Some passages of dialogue - descriptions of golden showers or Seigner's vagina - are more explicit than usual in mainstream cinema, but what's on the screen actually lags a long way behind the steamy sleaze that can be found in the innumerable direct-to-video 'erotic thrillers' which this so closely resembles.

Coyote, one of the most watchable actors in the world, tries hard in his struggle with the rotten script, but the rest of the cast - most despecially the broad-beamed Seigner - just flounder as the thin story straggles on and on and on. Laborious, predictable, ridiculous and, worst of all, dull.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: The Good Times


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