Year of Release: 1962
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenwriter: Jerzy Skolimowski
Director of Photography: Jerzy Lipman
Cast: Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, Zygmunt Malanowicz
Synopsis: A middle class couple passing through the countryside on a weekend vacation frivolously invite a hitchhiker onto their sailing boat, allowing an unusual chain of events to play out as a virile rage brews between the stranger and the husband.
Knife in the Water Review:
The clashing of two worlds played out between strangers on different ends of the social spectrum, “Knife in the Water” is a film of humiliation and desolation where a haughty invitation to climb aboard a boat forms the basis of a macho melodrama. An art piece ostensibly inspired by the sun-bleached wonders of “Purple Noon” and “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday,” “Knife in the Water” is blessed by Mother Nature with its gorgeous outdoor cinematography and intimate shooting style, reaching divine potential with a saxophone score and skippy dip and dive sequences.
Unweathered by the limited production values, the movie is a lesson in high class theatrics, planted on thematically solid ground as a moody middle-aged man entices a hitchhiker onto his boat only to torment him into reshuffling the sense of order that defines his uppity life. Full of anecdotes and intellect, the husband delights in restoring order but his patience in severely tested by his lack of fatherly compassion as a younger man with boyish charm puts into question his manliness through a series of precarious knife tricks.
Intentionally phallic and obnoxiously large, the titular ‘knife’ represents the struggle for power in a confined and dangerous space where the men spar like boxers in the ring, finding endless reason to be competitive as the hypocritical older man both mocks and participates in the illogical hitchhiker’s mindless games while under the scornful watch of his dissatisfied wife. Highlighting their opposing standards along with the pair’s noticeable generation gap, Polanski finds difference in their methods as the older man clings to his bourgeois tendencies while his younger counterpart relies on stamina and endurance to earn his place on the boat, refusing to be smoked out by a domesticated alpha male.
Debuting in his native Poland, the young Polanski directs “Knife in the Water” with a stark appraisal of the country’s emerging youth culture, contrasting the impulsive morals of a post-James Dean world with compulsive notions of traditional masculinity. Rendered compassionate and soft-spoken through Polanski’s muted inflections, the movie replaces the hitchhiker’s dialogue with that of the director, adding good looks to his recognisable voice through the casting of an unknown actor. Utilising practically unheard of methods of storytelling and scattering motifs, metaphors, and McGuffins across the limited scenery, Polanski brings the screenplay to life with the contrived set-up acting as a physical manifestation of the mounting tension between the film’s grunting stags.