Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown 1974 Roman Polanski
Chinatown (1974)
Stories & Ideas

Tue 11 Oct 2016

Roman Polanski: A Cinema of Invasion

Craft Film Retrospective
Colourful wall - external authors

Adrian Martin

Film critic

Roman Polanski dissected in 16 minutes

Few cinema auteurs have elaborated a lifetime’s work that is as coherent, systematic and self-contained as that of Roman Polanski – and this, despite all the evident changes in career trajectory, collaborators, language, national setting, genre and style over a period of (so far) six decades.

From his very earliest film school shorts, the same situations recur, in elaborate variations: power games in which the roles suddenly, starkly switch; a closed-in, decaying world made to look strangely normal in comparison with the grotesqueness of everyday society; the eruption of a stranger into the settled milieu of a fearful, too-comfortable couple. Even the same sorts of images and sounds, settings and stagings reappear: the slow, gradual approach to a house or city; the triangular positionings of figures in deep focus; the all-too-real dream or hallucination sequences.

Polanski’s films develop a stunning, surprising logic, one to the next, as they smoothly, slyly navigate between inner, private worlds and outer, public history. He multiplies our possible interpretations of these worlds: is it all a disturbed character’s subjective fantasy, or does madness truly define our collective condition, waiting to burst out into the open, in all its frenzied, psychotic, demonic splendour?

From eight films featured in the ACMI season ROMAN: 10 x Polanski – Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Cul-de-sac, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, Frantic, Bitter Moon and The Ghost Writer – we weave an audiovisual essay on the principal elements of this ‘cinema of invasion’.

Cristina Álvarez López (Barcelona, 1980), film critic. Co-founder of the Spanish online film journal Transit. Her articles and audiovisual essays have been published on sites including Fandor, MUBI, Trafic, Caimán, LOLA, Screening the Past, and Sight and Sound. She has appeared in the anthologies Schrader: El cineasta frente a los tiempos (2013), Max Ophüls: Carné de baile (2013), Philippe Garrel (2013), Bong Joon Ho: La reinvención de los géneros (2014), and Chantal Akerman (2014).

Adrian Martin (Melbourne, 1959), film critic. Co-editor of online film journal LOLA. His articles and audiovisual essays have appeared in Sight and SoundFilm CommentTraficCaimánDe FilmkrantFandor and MUBI. Author of 7 books, including Phantasms (1994), What is Modern Cinema? (2008) and Mise en scène and Film Style (2014). Frequent contributor of DVD audio commentaries for Criterion, Masters of Cinema, Arrow and the British Film Institute. Former film critic for The Age (1995-2006).