Friday, 17 July 2015

Knife in the Water (Noz w wodzie).

Until it was destroyed during the German occupation the Polish film industry was based in Warsaw, after the war it was reinvigorated and recreated in Lodz as the National Film School attracting many aspiring young filmmakers. One of these was an ambitious young fellow called Roman Polanski who made a short film called Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958) which gained him considerable recognition, a film that was described as 'social realism', he graduated the following year.

Film making in Poland at this time was governed by the Ministry of Culture and permission had to be sought to allow Polanski to make his first feature film Knife in the Water (1962). As finance was a problem, which obviously restricted the budget, Polanski decided to use only three actors and a limited location, in this case a large lake! Originally not given permission to make the movie in his homeland, Polanski travelled to France where he made a couple of short films. A year later he was to return to Poland and resume his plan to make what would become his debut feature film and one that was first seen in the West at the 1962 Venice Film Festival, a year later it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards - the first Polish picture to receive this kind of recognition.  The movie was co written by Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski, who was responsible for directing Deep End in 1970, and Jakub Goldberg who after being forced to leave Poland became a lecturer at the film academy in Copenhagen.


A married couple Andrzej and Krystyna are driving to a lake to go sailing when a young man suddenly appears in the roadway thumbing a lift. After nearly running him down Andrzej invites the young man to join them on their boat. A little reluctantly, as he knows nothing about sailing, the hitchhiker accepts the offer. Rivalry and sexual tension develop as the two headstrong men vie for the attentions of Krystyna.
Tension rises!
Cast as Andrzej, a red bourgeoisie sports journalist, is Leon Niemczyk the only professional actor in the film, the 'young man' is played by Zygmunt Malanowicz, a product of a Polish acting school, in his debut film who went on to make a total of 30 movies. Andrzej's wife, Krystyna, is played by another debut appearance in the form of Jolanta Umecka who was discovered by the director at a public swimming pool, incidentally becoming the first Polish actress to take her clothes off on screen.  These new actors were helped by the fact that Polanski was an actor and was happy to demonstrate his requirements. Filming was a  problem because the film was shoot in very cramped conditions, it was difficult for the crew to work and they would spend a lot of the time hanging over the edge of boat. The clever use of silence and Christopher Komeda’s brilliantly composed jazzy soundtrack became a very important part of the films makeup which showed emotion in imagery rather than dialogue.

Who will Krystyna choose?

Completed Polish films were to be shown to the same Ministry politicians that granted the original permissions before it could be released. It passed this test with very little changes and went on to be the vanguard of what was recognised as the beginning of the New Polish Cinema. Although successful, Polanski who had attracted a worldwide art house following left the country of his birth because of the animosity shown by Poland's ruling elite. He went on to make three films in England including Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-sac (1966).  

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