Death and the Maiden (1994)

“Death and the Maiden” (1994)



surrounding an idea

This is one of the cinematic homes for this filmmaker. He swims comfortably in these waters. Polanski requires very little elements to induce great tension in any film. That’s why he has looked for scripts like this, often in his career.

This is a great thing, the ability to take very few scenery elements, in this case a single very small house, and the surrounding landscape, and build the narrative over that. Because that’s what we have. The story is simple enough to produce no distractions, and the landscape is wide and desert enough to do the same. What we have is a whole set up that surrounds an idea of uncertain truth, provisional reality (to our eyes). That’s why we never stop wondering whether Weaver is right or wrong, whether Kingsley is a rapist or a victim. So does Stuart Wilson, who goes through the same range of doubt as we, spectators, go, and that makes him our surrogate in the film. We are judges to our own sentence. All the cruelty of an invented regime of a supposed south American country is the mere formalization of the credibility of the world. It is not about denouncing crimes nor about discussing politics, as it has been said. Also, much has been said about how much the final monologue reveals the truth, i say it keeps all the possibilities opened, though it suggests sincerity.

As an idea, this is as simple as it gets, and as every simple idea, it’s so hard to achieve, keeping it simple. That’s where things get interesting, when you check the cinematic devices that surround and collaborate with the simplicity of a simple doubt that this theatrical script suggests.

First we have the core of the story framed, at beginning and end, by the core music, a quartet which names the film, and gives consistency to the drama of Sigourney’s character.

We have the handling of the wide open landscape, with its lighthouse. The sense of green isolation, the poetics of the location, which growths on us, as it is given in small bits, until becoming the final stage to the real drama.

The house. This part matters, as this a film by a director who really knows how to handle space and include it in the drama. This is worth for a hotel room, a boat, or a small house. This is what he has been making throughout his life, in “knife in the water”, his apartment trilogy, bitter moon and this one. It is something i admire, the ability to include the space that surrounds the characters into their dramas and discussions. That’s one way, one of deepest ways to include (architectural) space in the fields of cinema. Orson Welles, Hitchcock (sometimes), Polanski… they all trust on their own camera.

We have the acting at the center of the success of this film. Everyone of the 3 actors involved play at their top here, each one knows where he stands, and interprets perfectly what is required of him to make things flow. Ambiguity, to Ben Kinsgley, Messed up mind to Sigourney Weaver, Reactiveness and indecision to Stuart Wilson.

This is less achieved than other efforts, but Roman never ceases to deliver his special gaze, and that’s always worth seeing.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb


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