Death And The Maiden

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Year: 1994

Writer: Ariel Dorfman (play & screenplay), Rafael Yglesias (screenplay)

Director: Roman Polanski

Budget: ?

Gross: $2,104,000 (USA)

Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, The Pianist.  when people think about roman polanski it is usually those films that come to mind (those and the whole underage sex, exiled to europe thing).  however, when i think polanski, Death And The Maiden   is usually first and foremost in my head.  those three other films are great and he has made a few others as well, but i can argue that, for me, Death And The Maiden is maybe my favorite of them all (or at least tied with Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby which i loved).

set in an unnamed south american country, sigourney weaver's character (paulina escobar) is living with her husband (stuart wilson), a high profile attorney.  one day, because of a storm, he is forced to get a lift home from a helpful citizen (ben kingsley).  however, when paulina hears the man's voice she thinks he sounds like the doctor who had raped and tortured her under the old fascist regime...

the film is based on the play by co-screenwriter ariel dorfman and it has been brought to the screen brilliantly by polanski.  the film feels like a play just without the audience and open sets.  i really like it when a film can go so minimalist on sets and basically stage the whole thing in one room or house and make it work.  we are used to that with plays, but with movies the audience seems to expect more because more can be done.  however, sometimes less is more, which is the case here.  95% of the film takes place in the escobar's home with mostly candles for light and the storm outside. 

the film is intense and claustrophobic as paulina tries to get the truth out of him and her husband tries to play mediator between her and the law, not sure if she is right or just traumatized.  the film doesn't make it easy for you to decide either.  what you think is true one minute can make you completely unsure the next.  the use of music is also great as shubert's Death And The Maiden becomes a supporting player in the film.

Death And The Maiden is definitely one of Polanski's least known movies, but it is without question one of his best.