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When it comes to dark and morbid thrillers, there's no one around that
can handle them like Roman Polanski does. It is with that in mind,
therefore, that I say Polanski is the best man for the job of adapting
Ariel Dorfman's stage play; 'Death and the Maiden'. He proves this with
the resulting movie, which is a thrill ride, combined with a character
study all wrapped up in a layer of morbidity; needless to say, the film
really hits home. Polanski handles this story, and his actors with the
utmost precision and I have no qualms with labelling this movie as one
of the man's masterpieces. I have no idea quite why it hasn't been
better received, as although it's not up there with the likes of Knife
in the Water, Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby; this is Polanski doing
what Polanski does best, and when he's at his best; the man is
brilliant. The story follows a chance encounter between a political
lawyer and his neighbour, whom the man's wife is certain, is the same
man who brutally beat and raped her while blindfolded under the reign
of a fascist regime. What follows is a three-way character study
between the victim, the man she thinks is her oppressor, and her
husband; who is caught in the middle.
The themes of truth and justice are rampant in this tale and as we watch to see if the villain of the piece really is the man who oversaw torture in the oppression, we are always reminded of the idea of the difference between a right and just punishment, and otherwise. As this is based on a stage play, it is the actors that are very much the star of the show. The three-pronged cast makes for a great ensemble, and every single one of them impresses. Sigourney Weaver gives determination and anger to her victim, and it is easy to believe that this woman really was tortured and beaten. Stuart Wilson is great also as the man caught in the middle of a horrible situation, but it is Ben Kingsley that provides the real standout performance. He manages to skilfully tread a line between an evil madman and a pathetic innocent victim brilliantly, and he ensures that at all times we are asking the question "did he?". Polanski's direction is superb, and the thing that most impressed me is the way that he firmly positions the tale in the middle of nowhere. This ensures no distraction, and makes sure that we are put firmly within our character's plight.
On the whole, this is one of the best films that Polanski ever made. Considering his prowess as a filmmaker; that is really saying something and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this film to anyone who enjoys movies.
Three characters, one suffocating place. The bizarre world of Roman Polanski transported to a true, painful and little known historical context. The film is an X ray into secret, open wounds. We're never sure what happens in Sigourney's mind, but we're aware that her pain and her anger are real. We are unable to take sides, we're too afraid. We want for the ordeal to end and yet, we're glued to the discomfort and uncertainty. Recommended for masochists and film lovers.
Rarely does a film with only three actors create such unbearable tension and
cover political aspects too. Also, the film has great actors: Ben Kingsley
gives the impression that he himself didn't know whether his character was
guilty or not; Stuart Wilson is a typical confused lawyer-husband; and
Sigourney Weaver probably gives her best performance of course, she's got
a good role.
I enjoy stories, where people get in situations so terrible and unnatural that they are unable to see their extent. They cannot think clearly and so their thinking structure changes and they begin to take completely absurd things into consideration. Every person reacts a little differently to the situation. I love this, and that's why I give this movie the best rating. I couldn't find any flaws in the movie, actually.
In this movie, Sigourney Weaver is thoroughly believable with her trademark edge, rarely seen in other women actors. The doctor, although obviously with selfish motives, kept me guessing until the end as to whether he was guilty of the crimes of torture she claimed he committed against her, having not seen the face of, but only having heard the voice of the man she remembered. You don't know the truth until the end. It is very riveting. Her relationship with her husband is very realistic, as well, and very revealing about both of their characters. All three roles were depicted as intensely real. I enjoyed this thriller from the moment it began to the very end. You are immediately engaged in her reality, rather than experiencing a slow build up seen with most movies. Very satisfying because no character was one-sided, but they were multi-dimensional, with each having a unique history. Bravo!
"Death and the Maiden" begins in a purposely disorienting way--a woman
walks around her secluded, South American villa, preparing dinner, when
the power suddenly goes out. Her husband is returned home by a stranger
after his car gets a flat; later, after assuaging his wife's spastic
bouts of unexplained paranoia, the stranger returns with the husband's
spare tire. The husband, wanting to reward the man's generosity,
invites him in for a drink. The wife, who is extremely on edge, escapes
the house undetected and steals the stranger's car, pushing it off a
cliff and into the ocean below. After this, the film settles down into
a three-character psychodrama of the highest order.
Roman Polanski, a director who can mine tension with a bare minimum of means, uses deliberate lighting, specific camera angles, and a well-paced narrative to create a film where the suspense is endlessly being ratcheted up a notch, often in ways that are quite surprising. The wife, Paulina (Sigourney Weaver), suspects the stranger (Ben Kingsley) of raping and torturing her years ago; her husband, Gerardo (Stuart Wilson), is a lawyer who is enlisted to get the man's confession. The game of psychological cat-and-mouse that ensues is absorbing.
Both Kingsley and Wilson fare well in their roles, but it is Weaver who energizes the film. Her performance is absolutely (this deserves all caps) RUTHLESS, filled with moments of raging violence, icy detachment, and degradation (emphasized in graphic recollections of torture); if you thought Ellen Ripley was fearless in the face of the Queen Alien, "Death and the Maiden" shows an altogether different kind of tough exterior for the actress. In a way, I was reminded of the graphic revenge that took place in the infamous rape drama "I Spit on Your Grave"; while "Death and the Maiden" is superior, it is just as similarly driven (though the rape and torture is left to our imaginations), and its psychological edge, matched with top-drawer performances, moves it further from a 'filmed play' and into more visceral terrain. And, as he's so good at doing, Polanski keeps us guessing till the very end.
Roman Polanski has proven himself as one of the leading directors for quite
some time - but nobody seems to take any notice! (yes I know people try to
forget him becouse of the 'incident'...)
The same applies for Sigourney Weaver. I've gon mad when a certain guy said how it's funny that Sigourney Weaver actually made other movies except Alien(s) - but nobody saw them! I showered him with titles such as 'The Ice Storm', 'Gorillas in the Mist', 'Working Girl', ...... and finally 'Death and the Maiden'. Off course - he saw none of them! It's sad how (in my humble oppinion) the best actress we currently have is so underrated. But hey - tell me who else got a leading actress Oscar nomination for a sequel of a Sci-Fi movie...??? She also was nominated for both leading and supporting actress in the same year (Gorillas & W. Girl) and strangely lost both!!! The Academy kept ignoring her Oscar worthy performances in 'The Ice Storm', 'Map of the World' and one of the best female performances of the decade 'Death and the Maiden'. She is unbelievable in this movie - the woman we saw as the World's heroine is so fragile and shaken in this movie that it is astonishing. She plays a sexualy molested (in the worst possible way) woman with all of her phobias and stirred feelings to the perfection - withought crossing the fine line to overacting. The scenes where she tortures Ben Kingsley are just amazing - as is the whole movie.
It takes strong actors and a brilliant director to make a movie which virtually takes place in one house - and has only three characters; and yet it never loses the suspense even for a minute.
This is a masterpiece, and one of rare movie that can be watched both by art-movie philes and the 'regular'-movie fans. This is Roman Polanski at his best since 'Chinatown' and Sigourney at her best ever!
This movie, Death and the Maiden, is a remarkable production given that it is a stage drama put on film. There is virtually only one set. The actors are incredible. You never lose the essence of the Director, Roman Polanski. Your interest never wanes in this thriller. Sigourney Weaver is outstanding. She is shattered by her initial confrontation with her torturer, Ben Kingsley. And then her recalling of the atrocities at his hands gives her tremendous strength, the strength of a tiger. The climax is unsettling but proves the virtue of forgiveness and acceptance even with extreme misgivings. This is a movie that stays in your memory. Kudos to all concerned.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A woman who was tortured by a fascist regime never got over the fear it instilled in her. Years later she thinks she recognizes her chief interrogator as he visits her home. She ties him up and begins a psychological interrogation, trying to get him to admit his guilt. Her husband waffles back and forth between believing the man is guilty and then wondering if he is innocent. The viewer is left wondering about the man's guilt or innocence until almost the last frame. Intensely dramatic, I was unable to take my eyes off the screen. 5 stars.
It is easy to heap praises on a film based on a good play--the subject
overwhelms you. It is however not so easy to probe what is attractive
in a good film beyond the two obvious elements--the subject and the
I confess that I have loved Polanski's "The Ninth Gate" for the teaming of Polanski and Wojciech Kilar. This is the second film where the duo weaves magic with great music--beyond the Schubert piece around which the film revolves. The two gentlemen from Poland are truly gifted.
There is another person I admire and that is Rafael Yglesias. When he works on a screenplay, he makes the original look very different. He did that with Hugo's "Les Miserables" and got brickbats from purists. With Ariel Dorfman's literary work, the liberties are not so striking.
The cinematography of Tonino Delli Colli, Polanski's collaborator in "Bitter Moon" is again riveting: cloudy exteriors; stark interiors. The close-ups and long shots of Weaver are those of a lawyer, making the viewer a party to the "court case in progress"
Finally, this is Sigourney Weaver's finest film and can at best be only compared to her performances in "Gorillas in the Mist" and "Year of Living Dangerously."
Polanski is a director who has made good and indifferent films. I congratulate him on putting together his team of actors, cameramen, musicians and others to make this one. Only "Chinatown" and "Tess" were more enjoyable than this work of Polanski (including his early cinema).
Death and the Maiden is a thriller. A woman who had been tortured in a
repressive government meets a man who has been her torturer, or has he?
It is also a psychological film. A married couple deals with uncovering the whole truth about their past.
And it is political. Although it is supposed to be a fictional story, it has more than a strong resemblance with the brutal tortures during Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile. It is not filmed in that country, but they use Chilean money, they eat Chilean bread and they mention Tavelli, a popular café in Santiago.
Beautiful music. Schubert's Death and the Maiden, is played throughout the movie.
A great film to view with people who enjoy having discussions after.
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