Married couple Nigel (Hugh Grant) and Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) are celebrating their seven year anniversary by taking a holiday to India, and are currently on a cruise ship to Istanbul by way of reaching there. After taking the air on deck, Nigel goes to meet his wife, but finds her assisting a French woman, Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner), who has been seasick and is now in a state of illness-induced stupor. Later that night, Fiona leaves Nigel in the bar to go to bed and he spots Mimi there, but she is unimpressed at his diffident chatter and leaves him with a snub. She is the wife of Oscar (Peter Coyote), who is confined to a wheelchair, and is soon regaling Nigel with the story of his life with Mimi, a tale Nigel has difficulty believing even as he grows more attracted to the French woman...
We're off to Bitter Moon, we've followed Mr Spoon, Bitter Moon, Bitter Moon - no, wait a minute, I'm getting mixed up there. This is director Roman Polanski's cruel sex drama, as scripted by him, regular collaborator Gérard Brach and occasional collaborator John Brownjohn, but seems to divide audiences who respond to its ultimately tragic nature, and those who see it as a fairly embarrassing adult story that has too many laughs to be taken seriously. It has to be said that the latter opinion holds the most water, as there's a stilted nature to the action that speaks of a lack of conviction as if it's all for show, and the supposedly daring elements are, in the main, ridiculous.
Another thing that doesn't help is that Oscar and his seemingly interminable narrative don't come across as being anything particularly worth listening to, and you half expect Nigel to be caught checking his watch and stifling yawns as his host drones on. And he does go on, with the polite to a fault Nigel his captive audience, in that he's too well mannered to get up and leave, yet after a while we're supposed to believe that he's putting up with this in the hope that he'll get to commit adultery with Mimi. However, if the brash Oscar is to be taken at face value, he's best to stay well away from her, the account painting a picture of a woman who is more at home in a sadomasochistic relationship than with a quick holiday fling, although in truth it's difficult to work out exactly what she's like with about three or four different personalities on display.
Almost all of the film is Oscar's telling of his affair with Mimi, so much so that the stuff on the ship looks more superfluous than deepening. Oscar moved to Paris with his inheritance money, and one day helped out an attractive young dancer without a ticket on the bus. He was immediately smitten, and managed to track her down thanks to a chance meeting in the restaurant where she was working as a waitress. One thing leads to another, and soon they have locked themsleves away in Oscar's apartment playing sex games, of which we see very little that's stimulating. There are indeed laughs to be had here, as when Oscar being orally serviced by Mimi is climaxed with toast popping merrily out of the toaster behind him, or an absurdly energetic dance to Sam Brown's "Stop" in a bar. Intentionally funny? Doesn't look like it, although some may give Polanski the benefit of the doubt. Yet most of Oscar's tedious story is a crashing bore, much like the man himself, and you find yourself thinking these two deserve their mutually damaging relationship which they really should have kept private. Music by Vangelis.
French-born Polish director who has been no stranger to tragedy - his mother died in a concentration camp, his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family - or controversy - he was arrested for raping a 13-year-old girl in the late 1970s.
Polanski originally made an international impact with Knife in the Water, then left Poland to make Cul-de-Sac and Repulsion in Britain. More acclaim followed with Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown in Hollywood, but his work after escaping America has been inconsistent. At his best, he depicts the crueller side of humanity with a pitch black sense of humour. He also takes quirky acting roles occasionally.