Roman Polanski Blogathon – Bitter Moon (1992)

This post is part of the Roman Polanksi Blogathon spearheaded by Ratnakar of Seetimaar – Diary of a Movie Lover Blog. Check out his blog for more posts on the acclaimed director.


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Greetings, all and sundry!

It is not often that I am invited to opine on a director who makes his films and tells his and others’ stories his own personal and very unique way. Often to the betterment and occasionally to the detriment of the viewing audience.

With legendary accomplishments to his credit, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown to his credit. And all possessing his own special, sometimes annoying oblique view in key scenes. I would like to steer a bit off course to one of the director’s later films. Medium in budget and length, though filled with romantic and occasionally creepy backdrops of Paris, the city of lights, a Mediterranean cruise to Istanbul, and later, India. Allow me to ask a few moments of your time to introduce:

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Roman Polanski at the reins: Bitter Moon (1992)

Which centers around a very prim and proper British couple. Hugh Grant and Kristen Scott Thomas as Nigel and Fiona Dobson. Honeymooning on said Mediterranean cruise. Relishing each others’ company. Meeting other passengers and enjoying their company while dining and dancing. As they meet Mimi. A voluptuous and seductive french woman. Played to the hilt by Emmanuelle Seigner. And her much older American and paraplegic husband, Oscar. Brought creepily to life with an extra sheen of slime to spare, by Peter Coyote.

To say that failed writer, Oscar is not a happy camper would be gross understatement. A lecher of high magnitude. Denied through an accident to pursue his often raunchy proclivities. Blessed or cursed with the gift of reading people instantly. Finding their weak spots and subtly applying pressure to get what he wants is an art. And Oscar is a master. Leaving both Nigel and Fiona off put and glad to be rid of them as the evening wears down.

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But. as a bad penny. Oscar and Nigel’s paths cross again. Invited to Oscar and Mini’s cabin for a very enticing, fetish laden “joke”as Oscar proceeds to experience vicariously and through voyeurism, what the accident has taken away.

And there is a story behind that accident. That is relayed to Nigel as Oscar weaves a tale of love at first sight when glimpsing Mimi for the first time on a Paris bus. Mimi leads Oscar on a merry chase through sidewalk cafes, after hour bistros and rather seedy, less than Michelein rates hotel rooms. Where love blossoms and Oscar and Mimi begin experimenting with limits as bondage, sadomasochism and voyeurism are dabbled with. Then plunged deep into. With Mimi being surprisingly imaginative while reveling in her submissive role.

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Oscar has discovered his Fountain of Youth. With no bottom to the well of his elegant, sophisticated depravity. Until a sultry post experiment argument ensues inside Oscar’s Peugot parked just outside a busy street. Mini exits onto the sidewalk. And Oscar flings open the right hand, driver’s side door. Steps out. And in a instant worthy of Warner Brothers, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Is hit by speeding delivery truck.

The tide turns in an instant. With Mimi “taking care” of Oscar and his still strong, though vicarious desires. Paying off in jealousy aimed at Oscar’s impotence as Mimi pursues her new, dominant desires. While Nigel and Fiona are slowly seduced and drawn in.

I’ll leave it right here for spoilers sake.

Now. What Makes This Movie Good?

Experiencing Roman Polanski delving into sensitive areas usually left untouched. Offset and highlighted by the romance of a lush and scenic cruise. While setting inescapable boundaries within the confines of a ship at sea.

Placed in the competent, deft and more than charming when need be hands of Peter Coyote. Who has rarely been better. Watching him work his way under Nigel’s skin in a collage of arrogance, knowing and a tinge of pity near mesmerizes. While Emmanuelle Seigner looks seductively, temptingly gorgeous without saying a word. A heady brew, indeed. In an adult themed film that may not be for everyone.
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What Makes This Film Great?

Hugh Grant. Well grounded and just before being “discovered” in the US. Taking on half of an archetype role while underplaying it marvelously with Kristen Scott Thomas.

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Was their “chance meeting” with Mimi, chance at all? Why them? Are Oscar and Mimi looking for friends, play mates, or suckers for a long con? One doesn’t really know, because Polanski, being Polanski only lets you see and hear what he wants you to see and hear (The muted, discussion scene from Rosemary’s Baby) what he wants you to see and hear. And this film has more than its share. And is better for it.

All aided by sunny skied and rain damp street on location Cinematography by Tonio Delli Colli. Who makes romantic backdrops and scenery even more romantic. While being aided and reinforced by an original soundtrack from Vangelis.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Thoughts on this film and/or Roman Polanski? Let it be known in the comments.

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11 thoughts on “Roman Polanski Blogathon – Bitter Moon (1992)

  1. ninvoid99

    This is a film I really want to see as I watched some of Polanski’s earlier films and such last year and really enjoyed them. I hope to do an Auteurs piece on him soon as this along with “The Death & the Maiden”, “Cul-De-Sac”, “Knife in the Water”, and some of the films he did in the 70s and 80s that I need to see.

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, ninvoid!

      Thank you for taking the time to drop by and begin the conversation.

      ‘Bitter Moon’ may be one of Mr. Polanski’s lesser known films. Though it positively seethes with the director’s unique way of letting you see just enough. And through his eyes and perspective to make the tale and story memorable.

      Much more defined and compact than ‘Chinatown’. Much more like ‘The Tenant’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ in regard to topic and execution.

  2. Hi Jack-Kevin! I have never seen this! Wow. I like Hugh Grant and K.S.T. is always great on the screen. The only Polanski film I’ve seen that really struck a nerve was ‘The Pianist’. Great review.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Cindy:

      Thanks so much!

      I caught ‘Bitter Moon’ late one night ages ago on the strength of its title alone. And the film has stayed with me. Hugh Grant and Kristen Scott Thomas show future greatness as the catalysts for Oscar’s and Mimi’s at sea activities.

      One of Mr. Polanski’s better “niche” films.That required revealing some things, but not everything.

  3. Ted S.

    Nice review Jack, I vaguely remember this movie. Not being the biggest fan of Polanski so I tend to forget which movies I’ve seen that he directed.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Ted:

      Thanks very much for the comments!

      Mr. Polanski is not my “Go To” director, either. Though he has helmed some great, if not resoundingly popular films.

      I went a bit off track. Knowing that those invited to critique would lean more towards his mid career, larger budgeted, earlier efforts. Though, if you want to understand how the director thinks, sees things and executes. ‘Bitter Moon’ is a superb place to start.

  4. Pingback: Roman Polanski Blogathon-Day 2 | Seetimaar-Diary of a Movie Lover

  5. This is one of my favorite Polanski movies – not too well known but downright memorable. I can still see Peter Coyote’s evil smile when I think of this film. This followed Frantic which was very underrated I thought but Bitter Moon is up there with Knife in the Water – almost its modern day sibling. And Hugh Grant – Polanski had him pegged from the start…

    Nice write-up!

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, rockerdad!

      Thanks much and great comments.

      The film does grow on you.

      Peter Coyote has been blessed with a kind of creepy, oily smile. And it’s used to optimum effect in ‘Bitter Moon’. An absolute master of manipulation. While paraplegic and in a wheel chair. Would love to see Oscar’s character in a David Mamet film like ‘House of Games’ opposite Joe Mantegna. A battle royale in the making!

      Good comparison with ‘Knife in the Water’ as well. While Harrison Ford gets to refreshingly slosh around in all kinds of “stranger in a strange land” vulnerability in ‘Frantic’.

  6. A superb review, thank you! It always makes me happy when someone says that one of the usually underrated Polanski films is great, and much more so when they say it is great for all the right reasons.

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Jean:

      And thank you very much for such gracious comments!

      I’m flattered.

      No director has such a deft touch at discovering, rummaging around and playing with the contents of personal toy chests like Mr. Polanski. And ‘Bitter Moon’ has that quality writ large and memorably.

      Hope to see you drop by and comment more often.

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