Armchair Cinephile 


The Pianist (Universal)
Bitter Moon (New Line)
Death and the Maiden (New Line)
Cheers (Paramount)
Frasier (Paramount)

I was talking to a woman the other day who knew she wanted to see The Pianist (still in some theaters but fresh out on DVD from Universal), but couldn't quite bring herself to do it. She felt that seeing the film would be an endorsement of its director, Roman

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Polanski, who by most accounts assaulted a young girl many years ago. Look, I said, if you start boycotting the work of artists with questionable morality, you're not going to have much art in your life: You can forget about reading most of the good novels, and you'll never listen to rock and roll again. A serious work of art stands on its own, and should be treasured regardless of its creator's shortcomings; if John Wayne Gacy painted the Mona Lisa, it would still be the Mona Lisa.

Well, yes and no.

Two other Polanski movies were just reissued that argue against that generalization. Take Bitter Moon (New Line), a tale of sexual deviance, sadism, and infidelity told mostly in flashbacks by a wheelchair-bound man on an ocean cruise. Taken on its own merits, Bitter Moon is a lot like its narrator: eager to shock, impressed with its own literary affectations, and hard to take seriously. It has

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its moments, but it's no Last Tango in Paris. If, on the other hand, you know about its author's storied past - not only his alleged crimes but the numerous tragedies he had endured - Moon becomes a weird kind of public psychotherapy. You start to wonder what it means that the older man who torments a young lady is a hack with delusions of grandeur, that the actor playing him is doing a deliberately bad job. Is Polanski confessing to something? Trying to expose his rationalizations in an intentionally unconvincing way? An otherwise disposable film turns into something more compelling.

His Death and the Maiden (New Line), on the other hand, is compelling from both angles, a serious movie made richer by the filmmaker's personal history. Here Sigourney Weaver plays a woman who, during political unrest in an unnamed country, was tortured and raped. Fifteen years later, she believes she has stumbled across the man who tortured her (Ben Kingsley), and sets out to put him on trial for herself. Adapted from a play of the same name, Death sets its long dark night of the soul in a single location, and draws its energy from two uncertainties: we don't know what Weaver is going to do to Kingsley, and we can't decide whether we think he really is who she says he is. Needless to say, an extra

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layer of drama comes from the knowledge that Polanski is in exile himself, with a woman on the other side of the world who knows what the rest of us can only guess at.

On a lighter note: If you're one of the 7.4 billion people who saw Finding Nemo last week, you may have noticed a familiar voice among the aquatic cast. That'd be John Ratzenberger, who has become a good luck charm for Pixar films, starring in every feature since Toy Story. That voice was once attached to a face, and thanks to Paramount you can revisit it: Cheers: The Complete First Season features Ratzenberger as the trivia-obsessed postman Cliff Clavin, a mustachioed civil servant whose role as barroom blowhard started small but grew with the series. For that matter, Cheers co-star Kelsey Grammer has also done his share of animation work; his spinoff Frasier is freshly out on DVD as well. If only we could get Roman Polanski in Dr. Frasier Crane's office for a while… •

More by John DeFore



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