Synopsis: Academy Award-winning director Roman Polanski explores the sexy side of obsession and the wild side of romance in this outrageous look at the dark side of love. Starring Hugh Grant (About A Boy, Bridget Jones’s Diary), Peter Coyote, Emmanuelle Seigner and Kristin Scott Thomas.
A mild-mannered man (Hugh Grant) attempts to rekindle the sexual fire in his marriage while on a vacation cruise. The only problem is he falls in love with another woman.
Offbeat and original, this voyage of wild obsession puts a whole new twist on the concept of marital bliss. Featuring dazzling performances and nasty comic moments, Bitter Moon is a hilarious walk on the wild side.
Bitter Moon 5.75
eyelights: Emmanuelle Seigner’s beauty. the complex dance between Oscar and Mimi. Paris. the ocean liner.
eyesores: Emmanuelle Seigner’s performance. Peter Coyote’s narration. Oscar. the wrap-around story. Seigner’s shitty wigs. its unintentional humour.
“It’s no fun hurting someone who means nothing to you.”
I first saw Roman Polanski’s ‘Bitter Moon’ in a double feature at the local art house cinema back in the mid-’90s. If I remember correctly, it played with ‘Paris, France’, a sexy Canadian film that also had a certain edge to it. In any event, I left the cinema feeling mildly disquieted.
And not necessarily in a good way.
‘Bitter Moon’ tells of the love affair of Oscar and Mimi, a writer and a waitress who meet in Paris, fall for each other hard and progressively start abusing each other until she has a mental breakdown and he is paralyzed from the waist down. It’s your average heart-warming love story.
There’s a wrap-around story, which is set on a cruise ship and involves Oscar telling another passenger, Nigel, all about their story, with the intention of stirring the flames so that he’d sleep with Mimi (like she needs any help scoring!). This causes tensions with Nigel’s spouse, Fiona.
After all, they’re on this cruise to celebrate their seventh anniversary.
This wrap-around part is absolutely dreadful, mundane and ridiculous – especially its finale, which is just plain dumb. But it’s inescapable, as the picture is continuously interrupted by Oscar’s storytelling and Nigel’s growing obsession with Mimi.
It’s as though Polanski felt that the rest of the story couldn’t hold up on its own. And, in this form, it would be hard to imagine how it would: Watch them fuck, watch her do a dance for him, watch her smear milk all over herself at breakfast – awkwardly backed by George Michael’s “Faith”.
It’s as though Polanski purposely wanted to shock people, because he then devolves into talking about golden showers, getting into bondage, and even doing some utterly risible role-playing (ex: Oscar wearing a pig mask and pretending to be a pig, which she’s trying to tame. WTF?).
I’ve seen worse in other pictures, but perhaps what makes this unbearable to watch is that Polanski doesn’t do romance well at all – it feels hokey, down to the cheesy music, making a lot of it unintentionally hilarious. So when he’s trying to be serious, by that point it’s too late.
It doesn’t help that our leads are unwatchable: Peter Coyote is utterly creepy and his smoke-damaged voice is like a pall when he narrates the flashback sequences. Meanwhile, Seigner stinks up the screen with her delivery – even her dancing is horribly offbeat and inappropriate.
But she is cute. And she’s mercifully grown as an actress since.
Ironically, the wrap-around story, which is the worst part of the film, also features the best performances, courtesy of Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas, as Nigel and Fiona. They play off of each other so well that it’s unsurprising that they’d reunite only two years later.
Although it’s apparently based on the novel ‘Lunes de fiel’, ‘Bitter Moon’ somehow feels autobiographical, largely because of Seigner’s involvement. One gets the impression that it’s Polanski cinematic expression of their relationship in some fashion – though it’s clear the outcome was different.
And convoluted. And contrived.
I just couldn’t get head around the way that Oscar became paralyzed. His initial accident, I got: he was careless so he wound up in the hospital. But the way that Mimi broke his back is a bit unclear. And why she wasn’t arrested and charged for assault, is completely beyond me.
I understood her motivations, however: the way that Oscar cruelly debased her and destroyed her soul is inexcusable. She was so pitiful. But it was also pathetic because she couldn’t stand up for herself at all. So, between her lack of fortitude and his inhumanity, it was a difficult watch.
And that’s pretty much what stays with me in ‘Bitter Moon’; it’s an unpleasant experience. Cringe-worthy performances, clumsy storytelling, an uneven tone, and the general sense of malaise generated by all of the mental cruelty on display, leave me completely unmotivated to ever watch it again.
It’ll be a bitterly cold day in Hell before I ever do.
Date of viewing: June 19, 2016