Roman Polanski again explores the depths of the human psyche in Bitter Moon, a magnificent epic tale of obsessive lust and the oh-so-familiar winding course of a passionate romance gone sour.
Bitter Moon centers around a familiar Polanski theme, that we are capable of being both torturer and victim, and usually both simultaneously. For anyone who doubts the validity of much of the past century of French intellectual thought, from the likes of Andre Gide, Foucault, and others, see this movie. For anyone who has been in a painful twisted relationship, see this movie. You will understand it. Some of it might be hard to stomach but that is the nature of truly great filmmaking.
A beautifully crafted movie, almost lyrical at times, Bitter moon is set in contemporary Paris but is told in a series of long complex flashbacks superbly narrated by Oscar (a terrific Peter Coyote) to Nigel (Hugh Grant as the usual British prat), both passengers on a cruise ship to India. Nigel and his wife Fiona, played by Kirsten Scott-Thomas, are on a holiday to enliven a stable but stale marriage. The couples become embroiled through the lurid tale of Oscar and Mimi's (Emmanuelle Seigner) love affair. Emmanuelle, Polanski's real-life wife, is superb and her incredible performance takes her from sumptuous beauty to complete wreck, a performance that deserves far more praise than was received. The lack of attention to her performance in this movie is no doubt due to the notoriety in the puritanical American press of her husband.
As a whole, Bitter Moon may not be Polanski's best film but some periods of the movie represent his very best work. Throughout, limits are pushed to the brink of tastelessness but Polanski masterfully pulls back just in time. The direction is complex and highly sophisticated and the movie arouses a range of emotions from dread to empathy to disgust to hilarity. The story line is far too complicated to synopsize appropriately in this review. Bitter moon is a great film, one of this reviewer's top 10 for the 1990s. Another must see! A word of caution, however, Bitter Moon is not a good date movie.