A Knife in the Water: Editing

Knife in the Water: Editing
Paul Fischer
Portfolio, Cinema Studies

The cuts in Knife in the Water are mostly long, and luxurious, or they seem to mix sporadically with the jazzy soundtrack to build tension. Polanski’s shots, as discussed in mis-en-scene, are carefully crafted, and the editing helps to impart the sense of sweltering heat, the lazy privileged day, and the ambitions of two rivals spiraling out of control.

As the hitchhiker wades through rushes, which cross him in sharp, interweaving lines, the jazz is fast, and distracted (5a). A fight breaks out between the sailors soon after, quick shots follow in succession, until the exasperated hitch hiker runs off, with the others following him.

When the boat slowly sails across the lake, Polanski offers long, establishing shots, accompanied by slow music and long shots of the sailors wasting time, lying around or examining a map. As the intensity of the music and action in the movie pick up, along with the tension between the characters, the cuts become shorter and more hectic. At the end of the movie, as the wife confesses her unfaithfulness, the shots relax again, slowing and focusing on establishing elements (the car, trees) instead of the actors.
A characteristic of the film is Polanski’s use of an actor or object to frame his shot, focusing the shot while still exposing the audience to all elements of the scene. This is critical to his development of the fighting men. The tensions that slowly build up are emphasized by Polanski’s flawless grasp of depth and spacing, which he uses extensively to translate the emotions of anger and competition in the film. He is able to use one actor as a sort of reflector, the surprise on the husband’s face imparts a cinematic value that the audience might perceive as coming from the back of the hitchhiker’s head.

A Knife in the Water Critical Review

A Knife in the Water
Critical Review
Paul Fischer

The form is simple, with only three actors and shot in black and white. But “A Knife in the Water” is recognized as one of the greatest debut films in cinema history. It is a masterwork with beautiful cinematography and convincing acting led by new star director Roman Polanski. The film, while not as dark as Polanski’s later works such as “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Pianist”, shows his complete mastery of the human psyche. It primarily explores the childish feuding between two men, and a younger man’s competition for the wife.

The film style gives power to the script, which makes sense because Roman Polanski also helped to write the piece. His involvement on many different levels is apparent, benefiting the film. Its long shots of the characters relating to their surroundings makes the film’s progression organic. The conflict between the husband and the hitchhiker is brilliantly illustrated in sweeping shots on the water. The woman, Christina, is portrayed in a sensual light, further adding tension to the two men’s relationship. The misogynistic perspective of the film puts Christina on an unwilling pedestal and illustrates the traditional patriarchal society of Polanski.
Despite the origins in communist Poland, the film incorporates American Jazz throughout. Christopher Komenda’s score is mostly made up of small-ensemble jazz. This evokes the sounds of America in the 1920’s, comparing the aimlessness of the characters at sea to those of the so-called ‘Lost Generation’ during that time period. The artistically selected black-and-white filming further adds to this Film Noire atmosphere. The smoky air of the film prevails to the end when the young hitchhiker seduces the man’s wife.
Polanski’s film is a brilliant tale about relationships on the open sea. Its dramatic look at the human spirit extends beyond the Iron Curtain from whence it came.

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