Friday, March 03, 2006

Roman along, Singin' a song...

How far are you willing to go to keep your marriage/relationship together?

Think about it for a little bit.

Whatever point you’ve arrived at, I’d wager it isn’t anywhere near as far as Oscar (Peter Coyote) and Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner) go to keep theirs afloat.

"Afloat" is a noteworthy word, too, since the wraparound, secondary storyline in Roman Polanski’s 1992 romance/chess match/smut fest, Bitter Moon, takes place aboard a cruise ship bound for India.

But most of the film takes place in the past, primarily in Paris, as handicapped Oscar's reminiscence to fellow passenger Nigel (Hugh Grant) - a bored Englishman in search of anything resembling something other than his paint by numbers marriage to Fiona (Kristen Scott Thomas) – about how he met and fell for Mimi and how he came to be in a wheelchair today.

Almost in shifts, Oscar and Mimi’s relationship goes from sweet to passionate to perverse to sour to cruel to sadistic and where it may go from there, well, you’ll just have to watch to find out. When Fiona asks Mimi (whom Nigel gets a hard-on for at first sight) if she and Oscar are also going to India, she replies, "[We’re going] further. Much further…", as Vangelis' ominous, beautiful, and highly underrated score swells over the soundtrack.

Sydney Pollack once said when deciding on whether or not to make a film, he first considered if he’d like to have dinner with the main characters. Pollack never would have made Bitter Moon as nobody would ever want to have dinner with Oscar and Mimi, nor likely Nigel and Fiona either. Polanski gets this, and one scene, where the two couples attempt to have dinner together, is weirdly uncomfortable in one of those unspoken kind of ways.

Bitter Moon used to be the kind of film I’d show potential girlfriends. A woman who can’t take what it dishes up is someone I probably couldn’t be with for any length of time. I realize that means I’m asking a lot of the female sex, but a guy’s got to set some precedents, and I don’t want to delude someone into thinking she’s getting something easier than the potential reality of me. It’d be a waste of my time and hers. Good thing for me Jeanne likes it, but she doesn’t take it nearly as seriously as I do – this is probably to her credit.

Because for all its posturing drama and trips through the hills and valleys of relationships, Bitter Moon is a farce…a tragic farce, no doubt, but a farce nonetheless. It hits me emotionally in the sickest part of my heart and I love that about it. It’s a completely polarizing film: you’ll either admire its audacity or be sickened by its depravity. It is audacious and it is depraved, and whether one sees it as a success or a failure would probably be measured through a reconciliation of the two.

“In the eyes of every woman, I could see the reflection of the next.” – Oscar

Coyote has a lot of dialogue throughout the film (usually in voiceover) that sounds like the above - creative to a degree, but pompous and bloated on most every other level. It’s easy to look at it as bad dialogue, but take into account that Oscar is a failed writer; a wannabe Hemingway, who simply never had the connections or talent to make it work. The “bad” dialogue makes sense in that context, and thus on the part of the filmmakers becomes good dialogue.

Mimi seems to be the only person in the world who loves Oscar’s writing, and in turn he has contempt for her admiration. This is an idea I can understand, although it’s a fundamental flaw in the human species. Eric Bogosian uttered a great bit of dialogue in Talk Radio: “There’s nothing more boring than people who love you.” Oscar gets bored with Mimi, and it can be easy to get bored with love, as the most exciting part is always at the beginning. After that, reality sets in, and it’s all about just being there for and putting up with one another when the novelty fades. This is an idea Mimi understands very well, as women often seem to, and she resents Oscar for his failure to grasp the simple notion. She is damn well not letting this one go, and if he isn’t willing to work at it, she’ll go to whatever lengths it takes to make it work.

This is the role of a lifetime for Coyote, who’s an engaging actor, but like Oscar himself, has often times been put to the back of the line. It’s a meaty role for Seigner as well, who was (and still is) Polanski’s wife, which somewhat recalls David Lynch’s throwing of Isabella Rossellini headfirst into Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet. She has exactly the right mix of naivetĂ© and ruthlessness that makes the character tick. I’ve often wondered what she and Polanski talked about when coming home from the set every night or if they sometimes talk about the movie to this day, or if even, just possibly, it’s a factor of sorts in the pair still being together after all these years. It’s hard to imagine a marital challenge greater than being wed to Roman Polanski.

If you dislike Hugh Grant, then you’re in luck, because he isn’t onscreen all that much, but if like me you’re an unapologetic fan, then it’s a noteworthy look into the actor pre-Four Weddings and a Funeral. His Four Weddings co-star, Kristen Scott Thomas, has the toughest job, as she’s given the least with which to work, or at least that’s the case until…

I’ve already said too much. Most people don’t like this movie. You probably won't like this movie, but I'm pretty sure it won't bore you. I can almost guarantee, based on what I’ve written, that you already know whether or not Bitter Moon is your cup of tea. And if you rent it and it’s not, please don’t come up behind me, tap my shoulder, and throw the cup of tea in my face.

P.S. If anybody out there reading has access to the soundtrack or the Vangelis score for Bitter Moon, please contact me. I've searched far and wide for it for years, with no luck.