Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar (though it lost to Fellini's 8 1/2), Roman Polanski's debut feature Knife in the Water is a low key and fascinating little movie. It's a 3 actor showcase, about a husband and wife who pick up a hitchhiker on their way to the lake to sail for the day. Despite a rocky start, they take a liking to the young man and invite him along to join them on the water. What follows is a slow dissolving of the couples marriage as the husband and young man subtly and not so subtly fight over the wife that doesn't seem overly interested in either of them in the first place.
The husband, Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk, the storytelling gypsy from The Saragossa Manuscript), is quietly domineering towards his wife Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka), and at first takes the young hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz) as an angry "you'd pick up this crazy hitchhiker if YOU were driving, so let's pick him up!" kinda deal, but sees an opportunity to look good to his wife in comparison by all the things he'll be able to do better than the younger man when it comes to handling the complexities of sailing a small boat. It's an understated pissing contest that he may not even realize he's setting up, and certainly doesn't foresee the consequences.
This is a tense, claustrophobic movie. We rarely leave the boat and it's a testament to Polanski's talent that even though he was just 29 when he made it, it is remarkably accomplished in its visuals, never feeling boring despite the tightly confined area. At a brisk 94 minutes, Polanski also had great command of the pacing of the piece. I like that we're not quite sure what's gonna happen after we fade to black too. We're not sure what everyone thinks or feels about what happened nor what they want to do going forward. Although I wouldn't rate it as high as it is often rated (Empire magazine put it in its list of 100 greatest movies in world cinema, at number 61), it's a highly recommended movie and one I'm glad I rewatched on my world cinema quest.