Death and the Maiden

Director: Roman Polanski

U.K.- U.S.A.-France| 1994. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 103 mins.

‘Films with thousands of soldiers running in all directions never excited me,’ Polanski has said. ‘It was rather a room, a cabin, a ship.’ Ariel Dorfman’s play fits him like a glove, a claustrophobic chamber piece with three antagonists locked together and a realistic situation teetering on fantasy. In an unspecified South American country, the wife (Sigourney Weaver) of a government minister (Stuart Wilson) begins to suspect that his house guest (Ben Kingsley) is the doctor who tortured her during the country’s former dictatorship.
By framing the action between a concert performance of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden (which was played during her torture), Polanski adds a layer of irony and ambiguity: what kind of mind sighs at beautiful music whilst sanctioning brutal murder? Is it all her dream of revenge prompted by the music? Whilst the play raises complicated issues about the way democracy heals and deals with a totalitarian past, Polanski homes in on the psycho drama, relishing another variation of the master/servant relationship scattered throughout his films, where the subservient figure suddenly turns the tables.

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