128. The Ninth Gate (Roman Polanski, 1999)
Johnny Depp is Dean Corso, an antiquarian book dealer hired to track down the only copies of a particularly satanic book. Along the way he dodges assassins, teams up with a strangely feral woman and looks at lots of books. The Ninth Gate is a fairly dumb film that pretends to be smart. I couldn’t shake the feeling throughout the course of the film that it was some kind of farce; the score, the performances, the basic concept, it’s all just a bit too much. Polanski is a ridiculously talented film-maker with some experience make satanic thrillers (Rosemary’s Baby) so I can’t believe that he intended this to be a genuine thriller and botched it. Instead I think he was aiming for something else with this film, I’m not sure what though because it doesn’t really hang together.
76. Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971)
Pile on the gore! Shakespeare can be a bloody nightmarish thing and Roman Polanski wants you to know it. The brisk tragedy is given the full miserablist treatment with an added dash of madness. From the opening appearance of the witches through to the brutal execution of our tragic hero this is a breathlessly brutal adaptation with buckets of crimson lavished over the spectacle. Filmed against the stunning landscapes of Northumberland and Snowdonia (not filmed in Scotland though!) the cinematography is luscious in its bleak forbidding tones. Howling winds and tumultuous rains pound over the whole affair. The whole thing is evocative of an extremely highbrow Hammer production. The crushing unstoppable nature of the tragedy is brought to an excellent halt in the final siege where Macbeth, reveling in the knowledge (or under the delusion) that he cannot be killed by that ‘born of woman’, is like a medieval Terminator. He wades into the advancing forces, clattering men left and right and shouting them down until he is inevitably felled by his nemesis. A cracking adaptation, thoroughly enjoyable in its own right.
60. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002) #56 in IMDB top 250.
Bring on the Academy Awards it’s a film about the holocaust! That may seem needlessly pithy and snarky but the correlation is hard to ignore and pretty easy to explain. The Academy is made up primarily of old Jewish men, they are understandably open to a bit of heartstring tugging by a film that relates to one of the most devastating events of (just) living memory. Because of this bias it often unnaturally prejudices me against the films before I’ve seen them because of the idea that a potentially more deserving work will have been overlooked at the handing out of the gold statuettes. The Pianist is no different, I’ve regarded it with some dubiousness – wondering if it is able to really bring to bear the horrors described in the novel of memories by Wladyslaw Szpilman (which I had the fortune of reading some time ago). It succeeds, Polanski’s is an experienced hand which gently pushes Adrian Brody through the wringer as he transforms from the suave concert pianist to the desperate survivor traipsing around the destroyed Warsaw. His desperation is palpable as his life is systematically destroyed by the heartless advancement of Nazi plan, as every last vestige of civilisation is torn from around him. His story is incredible and despite his survival it is twinned with the equally sad story of the German officer, Wilm Hosenfeld, who helped and rescued him. Worthy but brilliant.