Nóz w wodzie (Knife in the Water) disturbed me profoundly: so much that I use the adverb ‘profoundly’, one I hate very much. Besides the actual knife where the boy (Malanowicz) does prove his superiority over the husband Andrzej (Niemczyk), there is also the question of the figurative rapier: in what sense? One that simply shears the water surface, without being able to really cleave a way through, is one obscure, far-fetched meaning. Or it could simply stand for one metallic glint among the many little wavelets glimmering similarly in response to the sun: the hard glint of human greed and wish for power. For it’s the wish for power that dominates the film’s bleak Bergmanian landscape; the wish for power of the wife Krystyna (superbly played by Jolanta Umecka): by cuckolding her husband for the untested virile strength of the young boy, she at once gains mastery over her inner complex, her husband, and all the boys that that young boy represented. Where the film does fail is its atmosphere of drifting ennui, which does not surely bring up the tension to a point as to make the husband feel unwontedly jealous. The character of Andrzej is built very strongly, to show a man witty, strong, practical, of good hands, intelligent to some degree, an able man, yet lacking that free poetic will which would have enabled him to have the love of his wife instead of owning her. I do not think he could have been jealous of a boy whose only claim to a poetic temperament, notwithstanding the rather one-sided flirtations from the wife’s side when around the radio, was a reckless nature: does the filmmaker Polanski confuse recklessness with pure, untouched spirit that soars always high? I think so.
Being this main point unresolved, I often wondered about the purpose of making films like Knife in the Water. When you don’t know yourself what you set out to show, you only show your techniques: nobody wants to narrate a story just because he learnt fifty new words today. Fifty new words arranged neatly by an intelligent man seem beautiful: but what was the substance? The story ostensibly is that of sexual tension between the three: but the screenplay only shows drifters ending up in whatever circumstances are pitching them into, with not much energy or wills or even desires to have any kind of tension between them. One of the major weaknesses apart from the screenplay itself was the actor who plays the young boy: there is cold hardness in his eyes, like that of his knife-blade! It’s the camera which tries to construct the tension: showing Umecka in various degrees of undress to titillate the viewer. The boy hardly seems interested, there is no slow internal boil going over somewhere: what’s the point? To seduce the viewer like a soft-core porn film? I call such cinema, where the director seems just interested in testing his capabilities of filming something rather than narrating something, a ‘masturbation’--not engaging the viewer in sex, a film which just tries to excite the viewer and provoke him, not tugging the viewer’s sympathies for anyone, a cold, dispassionate view of roads and seas stretching far out. What makes the film a real fish in the bowl is the jazz soundtrack accompanying it: it reinforces the feeling I got when I saw the film, that it’s a film which silently tries to destroy everything meaningful and beautiful you see, it tries to convey everything is a game, not an exciting game, but a weary, worn-out game, played now and then, today and tomorrow.