Entertainment Weekly - 01/26/1996
"...Polanski's brilliant first feature....Still packs a punch..." -- Rating:A
Los Angeles Times - 10/25/1991
"...[The film] has a taut and creepy impact, like a bug crawling up your arm..."
USA Today - 10/17/2003
"...It still compels watching these head games play out..."
Roman Polanski's first feature-length film is a suspenseful three-person chamber drama reminiscent of the work of Ingmar Bergman. KNIFE IN THE WATER was filmed in the director's native Poland and financed through government subsidies. Although denounced by local authorities as devoid of any significant social or political content, the film caused a minor sensation in the West, was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Film, and even made the cover of Time magazine. The action takes place almost entirely within the confined setting of a sailboat owned by a wealthy journalist (Leon Niemczyk) and his much younger wife (Jolanta Umecka). On their way to the lake for a weekend of sailing, they are accosted by a young hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz) who jumps in front of their car, forcing them to stop. Annoyed by the youth's daredevil posturing, the journalist nevertheless decides to invite him to join the couple on their boat, initiating a series of playfully competitive games between the two men. Playfulness soon gives way to hostility, however, as each tries to outshine and humiliate the other in front of the woman, who appears to be taking a more than casual interest in her husband's young rival.
Roman Polanski's directorial debut, his final film-school dissertation, captures the tension between a mismatched couple who pick up a hitchhiker and take him on a weekend yacht voyage.
The film screened at the New York Film Festival on September 11, 1963.
Filmed on location in the Mazurian Lake district, Poland.
KNIFE IN THE WATER won the International Critics Award at the 1963 Venice Film Festival.
Niemczyk is the only professional among the film's three actors; the other two are a music and an acting student, respectively, cast for their physical appearance.
Polanski had intended to take on the role of the young hitchhiker himself, but Jerzy Bossak, head of the Polish film unit KAMERA (under whose auspices the film was made), turned him down because he didn't consider the director attractive enough. The character's voice, however, is Polanski's, who later dubbed the part over. Coscreenwriter Jerzy Skolimowski (MOONLIGHTING) also was interested in playing the part.
The couple's car, seen in the opening and closing sequences, was initially supposed to be a Mercedes, but this was replaced with a Peugeot during filming to avoid political controversy. (The more expensive car was perceived as an icon of Western luxury and decadence.)