Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Ghost, Roman Polanski, France, Germany, UK, 2009

Having always been an admirer of Polanski's work - albeit mainly for his earlier films - I admit that it's been a while since I looked forward to seeing a film with so much expectation and anticipation. The Ghost had its world premiere at this year's Berlin Film-Festival where it got mixed reviews. Although it must be added, that the good ones came mainly from Europe while the not-so-good or downright bad ones came from the other side of the Atlantic. I vividly recall reading a particularly negative one in Variety which appeared the day after the film's opening. Now that I've seen the film, the clear division of the two camps - US vs. Europe - seems to make sense inasmuch as the US fares relatively badly in it. This, of course, also throws an interesting light on the charges brought against Polanksi by the US court which, seen against The Ghost's plot, might be read as an act of revenge.

I don't want to employ the overused term masterpiece , but I must say that as far as political thrillers go, The Ghost is definitely up there with the best of them. However, there are indeed echoes of Polanksi's undisputed masterpiece - Chinatown - especially with regards to the ending. And not only because The Ghost also has a bad, in fact a very bleak, almost cynical, ending. More importantly, it's the feeling of powerlessness, of being at the complete mercy of an invisible power that does and runs things at will, and that who ever or whatever stands in its way, will be eliminated, that brings to mind Chinatown.

Ewan McGregor in his office in the former prime minister's Long Island Mansion

Another element that reminded me of Chinatown is the pacing. During the first 15 minutes or so, I actually thought the film felt rushed and wished Polanski and his screenwriter Robert Harris, on whose book The Ghost is based, would have taken more time to introduce the characters and let the story unfold - slowly. But then after a while, The Ghost settles at a very appropriate pace, takes its time to follow its protagonists around the house - where the better part of the story takes place - and over the course of the story its pristine, luxurious, interior begins to reveal its coldness and the viewer perceives the house more and more as a threat. Much like Bates Motel in Psycho, so Pierce Brosnan's and Olivia Williams' Long Island mansion - actually, The Ghost was entirely filmed on the island of Sylt, but you'd never guess it unless you know - also becomes an integral part of the story as it can be seen as a metaphor for the coldness of its inhabitants, Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams. Both seem completely disconnected from their surroundings, walking through their house like ghosts, and the viewer increasingly gets the impression that they were put there just like they were put into their former position of prime minister and first lady, as suggested at the film's end. In fact, as the film wears on, the mansion's interior is perceived as more and more eerie, something that is also reflected in the persistently gloomy weather. Moreover, the landscape that surrounds the house is as bleak and as dead almost, as its inhabitants, who, as we are to find out, are little more than puppets. And very tellingly, seen from the outside, for all its pristine and luxurious interior, the house strikes an eerie resemblance to a bunker or a prison, which again says much about their inhabitants for isn't this exactly what they are? Prisoners.

The Long Island house of Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams

So in the end, the protester who takes matters in his own hands is virtually the film's only sign of hope. But this being a Polanksi film, speaking of hope would be way too optimistic, for what is hope if the choices are either being run by a puppet government or else, anarchy?