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A young hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz) throws a kink in a couple’s sailing plans in Roman Polanski’s KNIFE IN THE WATER

KNIFE IN THE WATER (NÓŻ W WODZIE) (Roman Polanski, 1962)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Thursday, June 19, 4:05
Series runs June 13-19

“Even discounting wind, weather, and the natural hazards of filming afloat, Knife in the Water was a devilishly difficult picture to make,” Roman Polanski wrote in his 1984 autobiography, Roman by Polanski. That is likely to have been a blessing in disguise, upping the ante in the Polish filmmaker’s debut feature film, a tense three-character thriller set primarily on a sailboat, filmed on location. Upper-middle-class couple Andrzej (theater veteran Leon Niemczyk) and Krystyna (nonprofessional actor Jolanta Umecka) are on their way to their sailboat at the marina when a young hitchhiker (drama school grad Zygmunt Malanowicz) forces them to pull over on an otherwise empty road. Andrzej and the unnamed man almost immediately get involved in a physical and psychological pissing contest, with Andrzej soon inviting him to join them on their sojourn, practically daring the hitchhiker to make a move on his wife. Once on the boat, the two men continue their battle of wills, which becomes more dangerous once the young man reveals his rather threatening knife, which he handles like a pro. Lodz Film School graduate Polanski, who collaborated on the final screenplay with Jerzy Skolimowski (The Shout, Moonlighting) after initially working with Jakub Goldberg, envelops the black-and-white Knife in the Water in a highly volatile, claustrophobic energy, creating gorgeous scenes intimately photographed by cinematographer Jerzy Lipman, from Andrzej and Krystyna in their small car to all three trying to find space on the boat amid the vast sea and a changing wind. Many of the shots are highlighted by deep focus in which one character is shown in close-up in the foreground with the others in the background, alerting the viewer to various potential conflicts — sexual, economic, class- and gender-based — all underscored by Krzysztof T. Komeda’s intoxicating jazz score featuring saxophonist Bernt Rosengren.

Things got kind of crowded while making KNIFE IN THE WATER

Things got kind of crowded while making KNIFE IN THE WATER

The first Polish film to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and winner of the Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize at the 1962 Venice Film Festival, Knife in the Water is being shown in a high-definition digital projection on June 19 at 4:05 as part of the IFC Center series “The Fearless Roman Polanski,” which also includes such diverse films by the immensely talented, controversial director as Chinatown, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Frantic, The Ghost Writer, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, and the rarely screened Weekend of a Champion, leading up to the June 20 theatrical release of his latest masterwork, Venus in Fur.

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