Bitter Moon

Movie Review By Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997


Okay... I have to say more than that. This 1992 British-French production starred Hugh Grant ("Sense and Sensibility", sex and sexuality in L.A.), Kirsten Scott-Thomas ("The English Patient"), Peter Coyote, and Emmanuelle Seigner. It was directed by Roman Polanski.

Nigel (Grant) and Fiona (Scott-Thomas) are celebrating their seventh anniversary on a cruise to Istanbul as part of a trip to India. Fiona goes into a washroom and finds a woman collapsed (Seigner). Later that night, Nigel runs into the same woman, Mimi, in the bar. As he is leaving the bar, Nigel is accosted by a man in a wheelchair who happens to be Mimi's husband.

This is what I would term a dichotomous movie, lurching abruptly between extremes. As Oscar tells Nigel the continuing saga of his relationship with Mimi, the audience's sympathies for both Mimi and Oscar shift. In the beginning, when Oscar is on a bus in Paris, he sees a beautiful woman who cannot find her bus ticket when the attendant asks for it. So he slips her his ticket and is promptly kicked off the bus when he can't produce a ticket for the attendant. He then dreams about her, and begins searching the buses for her, until quite by accident, he finds her waitressing in a restaurant. From this warm-and-fuzzy genesis, the story of the two lovers takes many twists and turns, demonizing and then canonizing the two characters, forcing you to feel sorry for them in one act, only to be repulsed by their cruelty in the next.

The film also jumps from beautifully-directed scenes set to the music of Vangelis to odd cheesy scenes of perverse sexuality. Here's a good example: Mimi and Oscar are eating breakfast. Mimi spills milk all over herself and approaches Oscar, who quickly obliges to 'clean it up'. As their passion pushes their writhing bodies towards a state of heightened sensation, smoke rises from the toaster in the background. As Oscar groans with pleasure, the two burnt pieces of toast pop out and arc gracefully to the floor. Another bizarre scene has Oscar dressed as a pig and Mimi wandering around with a whip saying "Piggy piggy piggy" (mmmm.... bacon). I'm not too sure if these and other scenes with hokey dialogue were done deliberately, or if Polanski's head merely exploded.

The film finally culminates in a grand finale on New Year's Eve with the ship caught in a storm (it turns into "The Poseidon Adventure"!) where the pathological relationship of Oscar and Mimi and the deteriorating one between Nigel and Fiona collide.

So is it worthwhile watching? It had its moments. The narrative by Oscar will definitely keep you interested as revelations are made. The facial expressions of Grant are a hoot as he listens to the sexual exploits of Oscar and Mimi. But then again, it is an ambiguous movie. At some points, you're not too sure whether you should laugh and cry. It could be construed as both a tragedy and a comedy. Hmmm... have to think about this one.

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