Death And The Maiden

1994, Movie, R, 103 mins


Set in an unnamed South American country, DEATH AND THE MAIDEN layers elements of a melodramatic thriller over a chamber drama with serious moral and political aspirations.

Paulina Escobar (Sigourney Weaver) is a former torture victim now sharing a respectable, upper-middle class lifestyle with her husband, Gerardo (Stuart Wilson). A prominent lawyer, Gerardo has been invited to head a commission investigating human rights violations under the country's former military regime. When Dr. Roberto Miranda (Ben Kingsley) accompanies Gerardo home after having assisted him with a blown tire, Paulina is immediately certain that this is the man who brutalized her years before. Resolving to seek vengeance and the truth, she begins to subject the doctor to some of the same treatment she endured.

Argentinian writer Ariel Dorfman's internationally celebrated play has been adapted by its author together with Rafael Yglesias (FEARLESS). The material is well served by director Roman Polanski, who knows well how to instill a subtle, claustrophobic sense of dread in an audience and has put together a rather elegant potboiler. Despite DEATH's limited physical setting, the audience never feels trapped in a filmed play, thanks to Tonino Delli Colli's beautiful camerawork, Herve De Luze's fluid editing, and Polanski's mastery of atmosphere and emotional nuance. This is particularly true of the lengthy first scene, which superbly conveys much of Paulina's character and condition sans dialogue.

Sigourney Weaver begins the film as an enigmatic, emotionally clipped figure, then becomes as fierce as any of her ALIEN incarnations once her fury toward Roberto is unleashed. It's an impressive performance occasionally marred by self-consciousness; there are moments when we feel Ms. Weaver is rather impressed with herself for tackling so important a role. Ben Kingsley, meanwhile, hams up his part with relish, making the sweatiest, pulpiest, most obsequious screen victim since Peter Lorre. leave a comment

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