DVD of the Week – Disc Commentary Track for The Ninth Gate (1999)
by NIR SHALEV
Roman Polanski was always hit and miss with the critics but when it came to making movies, he made a great name for himself early on and managed to keep it up. One of his most unusual films, The Ninth Gate is about books and yes, the Devil.
Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a book collector who buys them cheap and sells them high. One day he is offered a lot of money by a man called Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to find three specific versions of the Devil’s Bible. Balkan has one, and two others in Europe have the others. Corso, accepting the offer, begins his journey in France, discovering that the first two copies he looks at have differences in their illustrations and that some of the copies are signed LCF (Lucifer) and some are not. Then it really gets weird.
This is a film noir in the traditional sense: Dutch angles, superimposed shadows, and double crossing friends. Polanski’s commentary track is mostly about the actual making of the film. It’s wonderful to hear a veteran filmmaker sit down and share his insight: that he shot the film in Spain, France, and Portugal, that there is some CGI in the film but it’s hidden well, and that most of the actors chosen are not professional actors but simply looked like their characters were described in the source novel, El Club Dumas.
I chose this film because it’s a cool movie, it carries a well told story with a good performance by Johnny Depp, and the atmosphere and cinematography is truly top notch. One thing I loved hearing from Polanski was his take on the contemporary cinema versus the old school. He mentions how many movies like to showcase a lot of close up shots while he had purposefully shot The Ninth Gate in Panavision (widescreen) and showed everything happening around the characters, which greatly accentuates its atmosphere. It doesn’t require a ridiculous amount of talent to make movies look good, provided one takes their time but it requires true talent to tell a story from images and expressions. That’s true old school filmmaking and that’s what I like about Polanski, that he channels the proper ways of conveying images and turns them into messages that enter the audience’s subconscious. He is still a master.
New releases this week: Couples Retreat, A Serious Man, The Stepfather