hate sex on the screen,’ states Roman

Polanski emphatically. ‘When they

start humping, I either feel strange or

I feel funny. I think humping is good

in a comedy, or on comical scenes, but

serious humping just disconnects you. You are happily following the film and suddenly you start thinking, “Are they doing it for real? No, they’re not.” You’re asking yourself all these questions and everyone feels uncomfortable. It just doesn’t work.’

This from the emigre Polish director whose latest film, Bitter Moon - starring his 26-year-old wife Emmanuelle Seigner - is an erotic thriller laced with black humour, perverted sexuality and dangerous power games. On board a luxury ocean-going liner, wheelchair-bound novelist Oscar (Peter Coyote) imposes himself on strait-laced Englishman Nigel (Hugh Grant), making the latter’s stiff upper lip quiver with lurid

v ‘\ Q ‘>‘ ‘t a

With Bitter Moon, Roman Polanski adds ‘perverted love story’ to a cinematic back catalogue that includes psychological horror (Repulson; Rosemary’s Baby), literary classic (Tess) and Hitchcockian thriller (Frantic). Nigel Floyd went to Paris to meet the director.

i accounts of his Parisian love affair with his

ravishing young wife Mimi (Seigner). Through a series of flashbacks, we see Oscar and Mimi’s relationship develop from love at first sight, through ecstatic physical abandonment, to bored sado-masochistic games. Caught up in the now impotent writer’s story, Nigel neglects his own wife Fiona (Kristen Scott-Thomas), while drooling at the prospect of sleeping with Mimi if he hears Oscar’s story through to the bitter end. As the tale unfolds, though, and the emphasis shifts from sexual obsession to the cruel emotional power games that ensued, Oscar’s true motives become suspect. Perhaps this too is a sick Charade, but this time involving innocent outsiders.

We are in Polanski’s Paris office, in a side street just off the Champs Elysées, which is both a privilege and a necessity. If the director travels to Britain, he risks being

extradited to the United States, which he fled in 1977 while awaiting trial for allegedly having sex with a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson’s house in Los Angeles. He had no great affection for Hollywood. which for him was already haunted by the memory of the brutal murder, eight years before, ofhis wife actress Sharon Tate by members of Charles Manson’s so-called ‘family’. Leaning forward in his chair, Polanski clarifies his earlier remark about portraying sex on screen: what interests him, he insists, is not depicting the sexual acts themselves, but the opportunity to explore the psycho-sexual dynamics of Oscar and Mimi’s relationship. When, in the first flush of lust, Mimi dribbles yoghurt down her chin onto her breasts, the erotic charge is electric; but by the time Oscar is crawling around in a pig-mask being humiliated by Mimi the Dominatrix, it is clear that the couple have reached, in Oscar’s phrase, ‘the point of sexual bankruptcy’. Two other factors distance us from any vicarious pleasure: the strait-laced Hugh’s shocked interjections act as a comic release valve. and Oscar’s sardonic voice-over adds another level of irony. A distinction Polanski made in another interview seems

6 The List 25‘Septembcr 8 October 1992