Bitter Moon (1992) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Nobody can accuse Roman Polanski of being in a career rut.

If you looked only at his serious early successes, like Knife in the Water, and his most recent movie, The Pianist, you would conclude that he is some kind of morose, ultra-somber Northern European intellectual, like Strindberg. In fact, you would be quite wrong. In the 40 years between those two movies, he has flitted about like a butterfly from mood to mood, and genre to genre. He has made many horror movies, but they range from serious stylish ones like The Ninth Gate, to campy ones like Rosemary's Baby, to out-and-out farces like The Fearless Vampire Killers. He has also made a crappy pirate movie starring Walter Matthau, a beautiful and sensitive Thomas Hardy period piece, a daring version of MacBeth with a nude Francesca Annis sleepwalking scene, and one of the greatest Film Noirs ever (Chinatown).

This particular Polanski film, Bitter Moon, is a sexy trash movie, basically the kind of lurid lowbrow erotica you'd expect from Zalman King. In fact, you could probably watch this as a trilogy with Wild Orchid and Two Moon Junction, and never know you'd switched directors. (Add to the list 9 /12 Weeks, which King wrote and produced, but did not direct.)

An English couple (Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas) is taking a cruise to exotic ports, seeking to add zest to their bored lives. Grant makes a pass at a sexy Frenchwoman (Emmanuelle Seigner) one night, is rebuffed, and is then warned away from the woman by her crippled husband. The husband says he is not protecting his wife, but is being solicitous of Grant. He claims his wife is a monster. The husband (Peter Coyote) claims that the Frenchwoman is responsible for his withered condition, and he then proceeds to explain how all that happened in a series of flashbacks. Grant listens to the stories because - well, what else is there to do to pass the time in the evenings on a long ocean voyage?

The flashbacks detail a sexually obsessive relationship between two people who created a world of their own, then didn't know how to function when they became sexually bored with one another, experienced a painful break-up and an even more painful reunion.

Needless to say, Hugh Grant being Hugh Grant, he pays no attention to the husband's advice, and pursues the sexy woman, resulting in wild, lurid, over-the-top consequences for everyone, involving perverted sex, humiliation, sadistic manipulation by Coyote and Seigner, murder, suicide, serial vomiting, and other expected shipboard activities.

The story is "sex gratia sexis", so forget about the plot. That isn't the central allure of the film. Your reaction to the movie will depend on whether you'd like to see Mathilde Seigner in various stages of undress performing various sexual practices. There are some very sexy ones. Seigner plays a dancer, and one night she performs a dance while wearing only a transparent nightie. This scene includes a graphic gynecological shot of Seigner, who is director Polanski's wife. In another scene, Seigner intentionally dribbles milk from her mouth onto her body, then gets Coyote to lick it all off. Seigner and Scott-Thomas even have an onboard lesbian tryst in which Scott-Thomas flashes her own body. It's pretty steamy stuff, if you're in the mood for an erotic entertainment.

I thought it was tawdry, and the three main characters were all detestable, but it is very sexy, in a very sleazy way, and I think that's all it was supposed to be.


  • Kristin Scott Thomas flashes her crotch and breasts very briefly in a sex scene. She may or may not be wearing a crotch patch.
  • Emmanuelle Seigner shows everything, including a gyno shot.
  • Two other women show buns and breasts in anonymous flashes.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen letterboxed 1.85:1.

Hugh Grant's comments on working with Polanski on Bitter Moon:

"Well, you know he's a nutter. A genius but bonkers. Coming from a cozy English tradition, and going to Paris. He doesn't work in the morning at all. (Impersonates Polanski) "I hate the morning." So you come in at lunch time and go into make up. Instead of someone saying, "Do you want a cup of tea and a donut?", they say, " Would you like a line of cocaine?" And then his wife will be there in make-up, usually topless, (another imitation) "So you like these?" Yeah, they're great. Very bohemian. "Bitter Moon" had trouble finding a distributor until after "Four Weddings" but I like it. And there are other psychotics who like it."


Bitter Moon (1992) is a 138 minute Roman Polanski soft core melodrama starring his real life wife Emmanuelle Seigner, Peter Coyote, Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Thomas and Grant are in their seventh year of marriage, and embark on a cruise to Istanbul and eventually India to add zest to their marriage. They quickly meet sexpot Seigner, and soon after her crippled husband, Coyote. Coyote tells Grant the story of their relationship, and, as he does so, Grant becomes increasingly attracted to Seigner. Coyote was an American wannabe author with no talent living in Paris when he met Seigner, a wannabe dancer working as a waitress. He had enough inheritance so he did not have to work, and the two gave in to a consuming passion until they had tried everything, until even Seigner's dominatrix to Coyote's pig, complete with pig mask, was not enough to arouse passion. At that point, Coyote tries to throw her out, but she comes back, and he treats her as badly as possible hoping she will leave.

It is no wonder that Coyote can't sell anything, even his dialogue is terrible.

My own feelings were summed up nicely by the first comment at IMDB, "Not just 'bitter', but rancid..."

The overacting was staggering, the story did not engage me, and the ending made no sense to me. I will give them some credit for good external shots in Paris, but the transfer was grainy.

Mr Scoopy affiliates,

I have been reading your comments about films and nudity within films for many years now. I have gathered some useful and insightful comments on films in general and the nudity that they contain. Generally I have seen some kind of  intellect, either within or concerning movies. But OMG you are so fucking american in your review about Roman Polanski´s Bitter Moon that I could puke. American public enemy #1 is yours as well! So much that you completely fail to see the plot, Irony and erotic beauty of the film. I´m a little drunk now, but fuck if I´m going to read such shallow comments more! You dare to compare this movie to Two Moons Junction!!!!! Man o man you have lot to learn about films! ( guess where this quote is from)

Scoop says: Wow! And I was the one who liked Bitter Moon! Good thing he was too drunk to read Tuna's comments.

Despite the comments by the reader, which forever doom all poor, stupid Americans to a lack of comprehension of this unparalleled masterpiece, Roger Ebert reported that the film was not received any better by the European critics. Ebert wrote:

The returns are in from Europe and the coasts, and the critics have found Roman Polanski's "Bitter Moon" an embarrassment: It is too melodramatic, too contrived, too overwrought, too overacted. Polanski has come unhinged. His portrait of a doomed marriage may be high porn but it is low art.

Ebert, however, goes on to say that he does not personally agree with the general critical assessment. He liked the film, and gave it three stars.

Actually our reader may have raised an interesting point. Although the critics may have agreed on both continents, average Americans at IMDb rate the film a deplorable 5.8 while non-Americans score it an acceptable 6.8.

Why is that?

I think the reason is this - this is probably a completely different film if you don't speak English at a native level. To the ear of a non-native speaker it may sound like they are delivering credible dialogue, and it may seem like the Peter Coyote character is intended to be taken seriously. To a native speaker the dialogue sounds like a parody of romance novels, and it is completely obvious from his voice-over that Coyote could not be a writer, or even someone who thinks he could be one. The strange foreign-sounding lines delivered by Coyote's character causes a confusion on the part of the American audience, which thinks, "I don't get it. He's supposed to be American, and his accent is sort of American, but his lines sound like they are spoken by Apu on the Simpsons, or by some Eastern European with two years of high school English. And he's supposed to be an aspiring writer! Is it a joke, or what? All his lines sound like entries into that Bulwar-Lytton Bad Writing Contest."

I hooted out loud several times at the dialogue, and once or twice at Emmanuelle Seigner's comical line delivery, but I guess it wasn't supposed to be funny. To tell you the truth, I'm just not sure whether this film is supposed to be funny or not, because Polanski has said it is supposed to be hilarious, but I'm not sure he and I found the same things to laugh at. The point is this - if you don't hear it with the ear of a native speaker, you are probably not confused by such thoughts in the first place, and can accept the characters at face value. If you don't "hear" the clumsy artificiality of the lines, and can take the characters seriously, you are thus watching a completely different movie.

As Jon Webb wrote:

I couldn't tell if BITTER MOON was intended as a serious study of sexual obsession or as a too-subtle parody of the same thing. The strangest thing about this film is that Coyote's character writes and talks with consistently lurid, purple prose. He comes to Paris to be a writer, though it's obvious he can't write at all, as his style is straight out of the pages of a romance novel combined with Penthouse letters.

I have a suspicion that Polanski intended Coyote's character to have a comic effect, at which he is certainly successful, but then somehow in the editing the point of the film, which was to make a comedy, got strangely twisted by someone with no sense of humor. The overall tone of the film is entirely serious, if excessively cliché, and the direction never makes it clear how you are supposed to react.

If this is a serious film, it has been done better before, for example in the execrable WILD ORCHID or the mediocre 9-1/2 WEEKS. I never before realized how good these movies could look in comparison. Compared to Coyote as directed by Polanski, Mickey Rourke is Marlon Brando before he gained weight.

Here are some of Coyote's classic lines:

  • We lived on love and stale croissants.
  • She's a man-trap! Look what she did to me!
  • In the eyes of every woman, I could see the reflection of the next.
  • She was my sorceress in white sneakers

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2/4.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 78% positive. As you can see in Roger Ebert's article, this film was NOT acclaimed by critics when it came out, but its reputation is improving with age.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed less than two million dollars.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Tuna says, "this film is a C-, and just barely". Scoop says, "C+. The movie equivalent of top notch junk food! Without the sex and nudity, it would be a steamy and predictable potboiler with little redeeming value, but the sex and nudity are the reasons to watch it."

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