Bitter Moon – Emotional Violence

Country: United States
Genre: Drama
Director: Roman Polanski
Year: 1992

Rating: ★★★★☆


Modern viewers will find Bitter Moon a bit of a culture shock. There is so much dialog and so few sets that Bitter Moon could easily be adapted to the stage. Moreover, there is almost no action or physical violence in the picture. And yet, Bitter Moon is one of the most emotionally violent pictures I have ever seen. The experience is something like slowly driving past the aftermath of a collision between an 18 wheeler and a Volkswagen van full of kids. It’s horrifying but next to impossible not to look at.

Nigel (Hugh Grant) and Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) are celebrating their 7th wedding anniversary by taking a cruise ship to India, which they imagine to be a romantic destination. On board, they meet Oscar (Peter Coyote), a bitter paraplegic, and his wife Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner), who appears to be a wanton seductress. Oscar manipulates Nigel into hearing the story of his relationship with Mimi, which isn’t for the faint of heart.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, but let me just say that this is emphatically not a first, second, third, fourth, or fifth date film. Screenwriters Gérard Brach, John Brownjohn, Roman Polanski, and Jeff Gross (adapting a novel by Pascal Bruckner) paint men as infantile, lecherous, and cruel in a way that will be instantly recognizable to most women. I wouldn’t be surprised if couples coming out of Bitter Moon at the theater got into horrible fights afterwards in the parking lot on the way home.

The screenwriters observations are acute, the cast realizes the literate dialog flawlessly, and as a result, Bitter Moon is a powerful, even painful experience.

That said, it’s quite good, and I’m recommending it on that basis.

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