Saturday, March 2, 2024

#2,948. Bitter Moon (1992) - Erotic '90s


Nigel Dobson (Hugh Grant) and his wife of seven years, Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas), are on a Mediterranean cruise. Shortly after boarding the ship, they meet French beauty Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner) and, later, her wheelchair-bound American husband Oscar (Peter Coyote).

An unpublished writer, the cynical Oscar invites Nigel back to his room on several occasions, regaling the young man with the entire story of his romantic past with Mimi, from the moment their eyes first met aboard a Paris bus through to their more recent history, when the two have come to despise one another.

Realizing that Nigel is smitten with his estranged wife, Oscar, who is paralyzed from the waist down, uses these meetings as a way to enflame Nigel’s passion, promising him that, once his tale is over, he is free to do as he wishes with Mimi.

But is that really why Oscar is revealing his deepest, most personal secrets to Nigel, or does he have another motive altogether?

The bulk of Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon is told in flashback, with scenes of Oscar’s and Mimi’s tumultuous affair as related by Oscar himself, thus making him the narrator of these sequences. There are plenty of steamy moments during said flashbacks, everything from implied oral sex to roleplay and even bondage. “Have you ever truly idolized a woman?”, Oscar asks Nigel at one point. “Nothing can be obscene in such love. Everything that occurs between it becomes a sacrament”.

Polanski does not shy away from the early passion that drives Oscar and Mimi, nor does he hold back when the relationship sours, with first Oscar humiliating Mimi on a regular basis (and he is cruel as hell, criticizing her hair and make-up at a party while romancing two other women at once), then forcing her to have an abortion when she announces she is with child. Oscar even agrees to take Mimi on vacation to the Caribbean, then hops off the plane just before it takes off, convinced he has finally rid himself of her.

Even with him acting as narrator, we despise Oscar in these moments. So, when Mimi returns a few years later, as Oscar is recovering in hospital from being struck by a car, she begins to treat her now-crippled former lover in much the same way he treated her. These scenes are just as difficult to sit through, yet we can’t help but feel that Oscar deserves it.

Tying the flashbacks together are the scenes involving Nigel and Fiona. Nigel can barely conceal his attraction to Mimi, and a wounded Fiona, in response, flirts openly with a young man (Luca Vellani) she meets in the bar. Having witnessed the collapse of the relationship between Oscar and Mimi, we now watch as another is on the brink of destruction, and Polanski ensures that we the audience side with the ladies in both instances, even if their behavior does also, occasionally, cross the line.

The performances are spot-on, with Coyote standing out as the oft-loathsome Oscar; and Polanski (who also co-wrote the screenplay) shines a light throughout Bitter Moon on some very difficult subject matter as it pertains to relationships, presenting it all in such a way that even the most perverse sequences (whether described by Oscar or shown in detail) come across as honest.

A sweltering erotic drama that crosses into thriller territory (especially in the final act), Bitter Moon is a fascinating study of the destructive side of romance, and how it can not only wound, but destroy lovers.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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