Whether it be the clammy creepiness of suburban Satanism shocker Rosemary's Baby or the cloying seediness of nilhilistic noir Chinatown, Roman Polanski has a gift for conjuring an unsettling atmosphere. Knife In The Water, his feature debut and only Polish film, is no exception. It's a slow-burning exploration of jealously, spite, and middle age - set almost entirely within the confines of a small yacht.
Driving to a lake with his wife (Jolanta Umecka), Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) nearly flattens an ardent hitcher (Zygmunt Malanowicz), whose method of making prospective lifts stop is simply to stand in the middle of the road. At first irritated, he soon spots an opportunity to have a little fun and vex his partner, and gives the young 'pup' a ride. Then, despite the stranger's impudence, he invites him to come for a sail too...
With an undercurrent of sex and violence always threatening to surge to the surface, what follows is a subdued three-hander, with Niemczyk's ageing bully enjoying his apparent power over the landlubbing (though knife-owning) youngster. Not unaware of the attraction between the boy and his bride, Andrzej relishes showing off, proving his superiority.
Coming on like an art-house Dead Calm (on which it was clearly an influence) Polanski's drama is slow-moving to the point of inertia, but patient viewers will appreciate the creeping tensions and Oedipal undertow. Not easily accessible, but a film whose scenes and themes stick with you.