Surely we've all heard of real life stories floating about of a man completely bowled over by a woman with her bewitching looks, beauty to die for....yet asking her out turns out to be the biggest mistake of his life!
In "Bitter Moon", Roman Polanski's overlooked 1992 drama, Peter Coyote's character Oscar narrates his sordid experience of a similar kind to a reluctant listener, Nigel (Hugh Grant) aboard a cruise ship sailing to Istanbul.
Oscar, a small-time writer on a wheel-chair observes that Nigel who is travelling with his wife Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) seems to have been struck by the thunderbolt that is Oscar's comely wife Mimi (Emanuelle Seigner). Oscar urges Nigel to "beware".."She is a walking man-trap", he tells him!! Nigel, clearly taken aback, of course, denies being attracted to her.
Oscar almost forces Nigel to listen to his bizarre tale to Nigel, who although initially reluctant, seems to be experience some sort of guilty pleasure in hearing Oscar out.
In a series of flashbacks, Oscar narrates the lurid true story involving him and Mimi...a tale which begins as an innocent romance and turns into what Nigel, at one point, describes as a "perverse sex life" as he almost throws up when Oscar covers some of the most sickening details..
Why does Oscar decide to tell his story in such vivid detail to a complete stranger? Why does Nigel, who clearly thinks Oscar is a sick man for making his wife the subject of an erotic tale, keep coming back to him for more? Does he harbour the hidden desire to have Mimi..in spite of his wife being around?
All throughout the first half of the film, Polanski plants these questions in the viewer's mind, which are soon answered as the story unfolds at its own pace yet never lets up. It is almost shocking, the way Polanski reveals the true personalities of some of his characters, as they initially seem to carry a very different persona about them.
At one point, the victim and the victimizer almost switch places in a very dramatic fashion and you are left in limbo as to who to root for! Of course, that is one of the strongest points of the film...it is very interesting the way these characters have been written. These are probably some of the grayest characters you may have come across in any form of fiction.
Roman Polanski directs like the pro that he is and that is not unexpected of him. The screenplay takes its time to unfold as some of Oscar and Mimi's sexual encounters are depicted in considerable detail. Some may find it rather odd that Polanski casts his own wife, Emanuelle Seigner, in the central role of the seductress and makes her enact all kinds of scenes that one normally wouldn't want to watch his wife doing with other men!
One of the film's most winning aspects is the performances, with Peter Coyote delivering a rock-solid performance of an aspiring writer reduced to a helpless cripple who can't seem to escape the situation he is in.
Emanuelle Seigner's transformation from a sweet girl on the bus with a child-like innocence to the temptress who could have any man she wants, to the 'victim' who actually seems to experience true love is breathtaking! I guess Polanski couldn't have asked for a better actress to fill Mimi's shoes.
Hugh Grant, the typically English dude, isn't very different from what we've seen of him in countless other films.
Kristin Scott Thomas doesn't get to do much and it's a pity.
Victor Banerjee appears for a short while to play a character probably written to depict the "sanity" or "normalcy" in this whole alarming state of affairs with the four central characters.
"Bitter Moon" is an intense drama bordering on erotica that may not be everyone's cup of tea, but is still a highly interesting work of cinema by one of the most prolific and revered film-makers of our time. Do not miss!