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Bitter Moon (1992, Peter Coyote, Emmanuelle Seigner)



Seen by director Roman Polanski as a black comedy of manners, Bitter Moon ‘s sophisticated if sour wit tells the dark tale of a dissolute, crippled American writer attempting to corrupt a pair of repressed British newlyweds while on a cruise to India.

Peter Coyote is the writer – confined to a wheelchair and with bad teeth, bad hair and dirty fingernails – who strikes up an unlikely friendship with cool married couple Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott-Thomas (the hyphen subsequently disappeared in her other films). To while away the hours of the cruise, Coyote tells them the story of the great romance of his life. Suggesting that Grant might learn enough from his tale to become a master of the erotic arts and learn how to satisfy Scott-Thomas as well as other women, including Coyote’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner, Coyote sets out to corrupt his new companion with a lesson in grossly unpleasant behaviour.

In flashback, the story unfolds of how Coyote’s determination to become the new Hemingway starts and effectively finishes in Paris when the pleasures of the flesh lead him away from the greatness that he feels is his due. There he meets, pursues and conquers the initially innocent Seigner, educating her in the back alleys and bye-ways of sexual behaviour. Investigating the possibilities of fetishism, sado-mascochism and urine, the two of them engage in a strange dance of sexual power play. However, the more dependent Seigner becomes on Coyote for support in her new way of life, the more distant and abusive he becomes. When she is totally caught up in his power, he abandons her and sets off to indulge in a life of unabashed debauchery. The story is far from over though. When Coyote’s low-life ways lead to an accident that confines him to a hospital bed, Seigner suddenly reappears on the scene to nurse him. She now has control over him and proceeds to take her revenge in myriad small and petty ways.

production details
France – UK | 139 minutes | 1992

Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Gerard Brach, John Brownjohn, Roman Polanski, based on the novel by Pascal Bruckner

Hugh Grant as Nigel
Kristin Scott Thomas as Fiona
Emmanuelle Seigner as Mimi
Peter Coyote as Oscar
Victor Banerjee as Mr. Singh
Patrick Albenque as Steward
Sophie Patel as Amrita Singh
Smilja Mihailovitch as Bridge Player
Leo Eckmann as Bridge Player
Luca Vellani as Dado
Richard Dieux as Partygoer
Danny Wuyts as Bandleader
Boris Bergman as Amigo de Oscar