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Awesome: 33.33%
Worth A Look53.33%
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Sucks: 3.33%

3 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Death and the Maiden
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by Wendell Walker

"It was a dark and stormy night of the human soul..."
4 stars

Roman Polanski's early films are a mindfucking body of work second to none. But he's been struggling for decades to get that touch back. Death and the Maiden is an honorable try, but never really locates the resonances that shake your soul.

Polanski has been struggling for a return to form for the better part of twenty years now, ever since he had to high-tail it (sic) out of town on a morals charge. He's tried the sensitive art film (Tess), the Hitchcock-esque thriller (Frantic) and the 'nads-to-the-wall psychosexual farce (Bitter Moon). Now he tries his hand at the claustrophobic small-cast meltdown.

In "Death and the Maiden", Sigourney Weaver plays a recovering victim of institutionalized torture in a nameless South American country, and her husband the mildly subversive journalist in whose name she was tortured. Ben Kingsley is the only other cast member, a stranger whose car breakdown one night lands him at their doorstep at the top of a cliff by the ocean, complete with ominous moonscapes and crashing waves. Weaver's character becomes convinced that Kingsley was the doctor who played Death and the Maiden with her, a twisted and hideous, though unspecified, practice of abuse. The drama of the play-cum-movie centers around Did-He-Or-Didn't-He, and whether she's having a post-traumatic psychotic breakdown. The moral ambivalences pile up as she relentlessly pursues him, turning HIM into the victim of her own persecution on less-than-clearcut grounds.

It's a tight, intense drama that probably worked better onstage than it does onscreen. Not that there are any real problems with either the performances (Weaver is a standout as usual, making the most of her natural fierceness) or the direction. Polanski is generous with the theatrical fireworks. But it remains curiously unaffecting. Somehow we never get fully lost in the sturm-und-drang of souls struggling at the extreme edge of human experience. The aim for a theatrical epiphany seems somehow to trivialize the trauma and horror of torture. In short, the play/film brings up many more, and more serious, issues than it can reasonably honor. It deserves credit for the attempt, but it will ultimately be judged on the failure.

Coming from another director, Death and the Maiden would be a career high, but from Polanski it's an odd disappointment. It's certainly worth watching, and it's a tough little bastard. But it's not going to change your life.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2106&reviewer=82
originally posted: 06/06/99 15:16:38
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User Comments

1/13/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess It's a bit like 'Hard Candy,' only it's for vewiers who think. 5 stars
5/21/06 farid advise you to watch it. 5 stars
7/26/05 Indrid Cold Polanski is a scumbag, thus it annoys me to admit that the man has talent. 4 stars
7/20/04 Keithanthony Sigourney is extremely erotic although there is no sex. It is a must for Femdoms 5 stars
3/07/04 Goofy Maxwell I loved this touchstone human rights movie b4 I knew Polanski from a politician. 5 stars
12/11/03 john interessting but a little less inspired than you'd expect from Polanski 3 stars
1/03/03 Jack Sommersby Weakly cated and underwhelmingly directed. 2 stars
6/18/02 Charles Tatum Meandering, but with strong performances 4 stars
6/14/01 Jacob van zonneveld keeps you thinking. good movie 4 stars
5/26/01 JesseL Boring, Pretentious, Tedious, Predictable 1 stars
10/10/99 Weird Andy A snooze-fest. 2 stars
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