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Death and the Maiden

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Death and the Maiden

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley
Director: Roman Polanski
Rated: R
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: January 1995
Genre: Drama





Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is Roman Polanski's latest film and it clearly has his stamp on it. I find Polanski's movies always to be smartly written and directed. He assumes that he has an audience who goes to the movies with their thinking caps on, and his movies always surprise you. Sometimes the surprises come as unexpected twists in the plot (as in CHINATOWN or FRANTIC) and at other time in how harsh and intense the way the characters are drawn (as in BITTER MOON). Finally, his movies can be so heavy that they are hard to watch. If you are prone to nightmares, his movies provide fertile ground. DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is all of the above.

The movie is set in a South American country, assumed to be Chile, where a democratic regime has taken over from a brutal dictatorship. The new Minister of Justice is played by Stuart Wilson. His wife, played by Sigourney Weaver, was brutally and repeated tortured and raped by the old regime when she was a student activist. The other actor in this three-person play is Ben Kingsley. He is a doctor, and he may or may not have been Weaver's chief torturer. The movie, made from a play, is about the mystery of whether Kingsley was the torturer or not.

The title DEATH AND THE MAIDEN comes from the name of a Schubert Quartet, and it plays a central thread that runs through the entire show. The opening scene is in a concert hall where this quartet is being performed. The camera cuts from the tension of the violin strings to the tension in Weaver's face and hands. From there we skip to the isolated house on a peninsula where Weaver and her husband live and where 99% of this claustrophobic movie takes place.

Kingsley brings Wilson home in a huge storm where they have lost power and phone. Soon Weaver becoming increasingly agitated decides that Kingsley was her torturer. (Having recently spent over two days at home in the mountains with no power or phone, with the only road out blocked and with several huge holes blown in our roof, I can speak from some authority in the isolation and irritation a situation like this can cause.)

For the rest of the movie you are not sure if she is going to kill him, torture him or what, but rest assured that it is a long night of terror for the three leads and for the audience. The well-written script by Rafeal Yglesuas and Ariel Dorfman takes many twists. Have yourself some fun and try to guess the ending. You will find there are many possibilities from which to choose.

Weaver is an incredible actor who can play intense roles as in ALIENS and comedic roles as in WORKING GIRL. She is excellent here as one of the angriest and bitterest women you will ever meet. She is angry at life and everyone in it including her husband. You wonder early on in the show why he would stay with someone so angry and mean, but as the plot develops you find out the reasons he puts up with this miserable marriage.

Kingsley has the ambiguous and hence harder part. Sometimes you think he is a victim and other times you are convinced he is an animal. A fascinating piece of acting. Wilson on the other hand is weak and gives a pedestrian performance. He was rarely believable.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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