Knife in the Water (Polish: Nóż w wodzie) was one of the surprising discoveries of the 1963 season when it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1963 Academy Awards. The filmmaker Roman Polanski with his debut became bracketed with Orson Welles who had similarly made a name with Citizen Kane. Both were mavericks, who flouted norms and later got on the wrong side of the Establishment for different reasons. Knife in the water brought Polanski fame and respect in the film community (and also got him on the cover of Time).
This 1962 film directed by Roman Polański features only three characters out of which two of the actors (Jolanta Umecka, who plays Krystyna and Zygmunt Malanowicz, who plays the young man) had virtually no previous professional experience. Roman Polanski had intended to take on the role of the young hitchhiker himself, but Jerzy Bossak, head of the Polish film unit KAMERA (who held the control over the production), vetoed the idea. Bossak didn’t consider the director attractive enough. ( Curiously he let Polansky dub the voice of Malanowicz over. He had a strong, well developed bass voice, which was quite inappropriate for the character.)
This film in essentials forms part of trilogy of films based around a psychological ménage-à-trois with _Cul-de-Sac (1966)_ and Death and the Maiden (1994). All three films feature a couple whose lives are turned upside down by an outside character.
In a nutshell the film deals with rivalry and sexual tension between a couple who pick up an young student, a hitchhiker.
Andrzej and Krystyna are driving to a lake to go sailing when they come upon a young man hitchhiking in the middle of the road. After nearly hitting him, Andrzej sarcastically invites the young man to sit behind and to take a nap while they continue driving. When they arrive at the docks, instead of leaving the young man behind, the man invites him over.
Andrzej , the husband is a brute and unpleasant to boot while Kataryna his wife who, as typical of the female species knows when to assert her power over him. We are let in from their brief verbal exchanges that he married beneath his station and he intends to have his way whether right or wrong. Having picked up the younger man he could have let him go on his way. No instead he wants to continue the psychological cat-and mouse game: he knows he is in a dominant position.( At the beginning of the film we see him take over the wheel from his wife.) He has next set his sailboat as the stage for the game. The hitchhiker, as he had rightly calculated is wet behind his ears in the areas he thinks he is an expert, like the sailboat he commandeers. He as the captain is in control over his crew, his wife and the hitchhiker.
Tension gradually builds between Andrzej and the unnamed hitchhiker as they vie for the attentions of the young wife. As the threesome head out to open water, the husband and the student start a kind of jealous sparring which keeps Kataryna mildly amused. She knows the reason and she lets it develop as if she is not involved. What began as a mild battle of wills ends up in a fight that has the student falling overboard and the husband swimming to shore for help.
But things are not what they seem: the wife who is ever browbeaten into submission by her husband merely seems to have acquiesced but not left the contest completely; as the hitchhiker who has not surfaced from water may seem to have met some disastrous end. Yes, appearances are deceptive, as the husband will soon discover.
The title refers to the climatic point in the film when Andrzej taunts the young man and drops his pocket knife and it falls in the water.
Krzysztof Komeda’s music is used in the film.
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by Stanislaw Zylewicz
Written by Jerzy Skolimowski
Starring Leon Niemczyk
Roman Polanski (voice)
Running time 94 min
‘Knife in the Water is a symbolic film;…directly related to the communistic controversy. Poland’s hard-line leader Wlandislaw Gomulka condemned the film at the 13th Plenary Session of the Communist Party (http://www.cafeinternet.co.uk/).The power struggle between Andrjez and the young hitchhiker demonstrates the rebellion against dictatorship after WWII.
Furthermore demonstrating competition relating to communism, the hiker has a specific skill with the knife he brings aboard… and Andrzej become curious, trying to perform the same tricks as the boy…is symbolic of the people and their skills, talents and beliefs’.
( Quoted from: Knife in the Water: Displaying Cultural Symbolism? By Kristin Fuller and Robin Seaton-May 1, 2000)
* Co-screenwriter Jerzy Skolimowski also was interested in playing the young hitchhiker’s part.
* Initially, Polanski wanted to make a criminal story about a couple which takes a young hitchhiker to a boat trip, and at the end the boy dies in mysterious circumstances. In his version the trip was about a week long a involved some other characters. It was Jerzy Skolimowski who proposed to shorten it to one day and limit the number of characters. The final script was created in only three, four days by Polanski, Skolimowski and Jakub Goldberg in Polanski’s apartment. While writing the script they were playing the dialogue, changing the roles all the time.
* The boat used in the movie is rumored to be a former property of Hermann Goering, the Nazi party member and a friend of Adolf Hitler, who used to spend summer holidays in the palace in Sztynort neighboring the filming locations. Sunk during World War II in the Mazurian Lakes, it was restored and is — up to present date — owned by Almatur Travel Agency located in Gizycko, Poland, very popular in Polish showbiz-related circles. The real name of the boat is “Rekin” (“The Shark”).
# During one of top mast shots, the cameramen Jerzy Lipman was tied to the mast and hold a camera. Although the wind was not strong, the mast swung and the camera was heavy, so it was very difficult to take a good shot. All the time the director Roman Polanski was very excited about the shot and kept asking how it was going. Lipman got very angry and said “Fuck! It is fucking beautiful!” and… dropped the camera to the water. He had forgotten to attach it with the safety cable. The Arriflex camera couldn’t be found by the divers and still lies somewhere in the lake.
# The first scene in the film shows Andrzej and Krystyna driving a car. As shooting from the platform in front of the car was not yet available, the crew was tied to the car, standing on its mask. To get the proper light effects, they held a blanket with a small hole for the camera. Leon Niemczyk (Andrzej) was really driving this car quite fast (this was crucial to this scene), but he couldn’t see anything. He drove the car using the tops of the trees to imagine where the road is.
# After the movie became known in US, Polanski was given a proposal to remake the film in English with some known Hollywood actors (rumors talk about Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor), but he turned it down as he didn’t want to “repeat himself”.
# The couple’s car, seen in the opening and closing sequences, was initially supposed to be a Mercedes, but this was replaced with a Peugeot during filming to avoid political controversy.
# The first Polish film to be nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar.
# This was Roman Polanski’s directorial debut, and the only film he ever made in his native Poland. Shortly after the film was released, Polanski emigrated to France (then to England, and then to the US), where he established his international fame.
Cul-de-Sac (1966, Roman Polanski)
Dead Calm (1989, Phillip Noyce)
Kill Cruise (1990, Peter Keglevic)
Bitter Moon (1992, Roman Polanski)
Dark Harbor (1998, Adam Coleman Howard)
Dead In the Water (2001, Gustavo Lipsztein)
Open Water (2003, Chris Kentis)
Red Lights (2004, Cédric Kahn)
The Lightship (1985, Jerzy Skolimowski)
Alexandra’s Project (2003, Rolf de Heer)
Movies of Polanski
The Tenant (1976, Roman Polanski)
Che? (1973, Roman Polanski)
Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski)
Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)
Macbeth (1971, Roman Polanski)
Frantic (1988, Roman Polanski)
Bitter Moon (1992, Roman Polanski) The Pianist, Tess and Death and Maiden are other movies
( Ack:allmovie,imdb and wikipedia)