In 1994 Roman Polanski directed Death and the Maiden, a three-actors (Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Stuart Wilson) film adaptation of a 1990 play written by Ariel Dorfman. The film is about a very tough topic, the dictatorships in Latin America, is incredibly powerful, and is impeccably directed and acted. Even though it’s not a horror movie, it manages to terrorize and chill. Here is my two cents about it!
The film begins with Sigourney Weaver at home listening to a radio broadcast on the creation of a committee investigating the crimes against humanity during the dictatorship which just ended in the country. A famous lawyer, an activist, should become the head of such committee and we soon discover that that lawyer is her husband. In the meanwhile, Polanski also shows us the back of Sigourney Weaver showing signs of torture. When her husband, Stuart Wilson, returns home, they fight verbally because she thinks that he shouldn’t participate in the committee which, according to her, will be a farce.
Ben Kingsley also arrives with her husband, after having helped him to get home after a problem with the car… and who’s Ben Kingsley? We don’t know, but we know that Sigourney Weaver is convinced that he was a torturer at the time of the dictatorship, the same torturer who raped her several times when she was in jail. And that’s when the tension starts to rise, and it will do so until the very end of the movie! Is Ben Kingsley really a torturer? Or is paranoia driving the actions of Sigourney Weaver? We don’t know what to believe, and not even Wilson, her husband, is convinced that she is right!
The film works because the tension rises continuously, the three actors are phenomenal, the dark and oppressive tones don’t make us relax for even a second… everything is well done. And here comes the ending that… but here I enter spoiler territory! If you want to avoid that, stop here and watch the movie, you won’t regret it!
And if you don’t give a damn about spoilers, and maybe you’ve already seen the film, I’ll admit that the finale didn’t fully convince me. Unlike the theatrical play, which maintains the mystery about the past of Ben Kingsley’s character, Polanski decides to reveal whether Kingsley was really a torturer or not. I believe that the film would have been stronger without this revelation, but who am I to judge someone like Polanski? In any case, the very final scene of the movie, with the three actors looking at each other in the theater, perfectly ends the movie.
What to say more? Death and the maiden is certainly a must-watch: it’s shot by a master of cinema, it has an exceptional cast, the soundtrack is excellent, and the atmosphere is incredible. Ciao!