While onboard an ocean liner bound for India, a tedious, very English married couple – Nigel (Hugh Grant) and Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) Dobson – encounter Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner, wife of director Roman Polanski), a voluptuous French girl, and her older wheelchair-bound American husband Oscar (Peter Coyote), a failed writer.
Over the course of the voyage, Oscar insists on recounting to Nigel (a well-bred City Eurobond dealer with a public school accent) – in graphic and grotesque detail – the story of his relationship with Mimi – a tale of corrupt passion that threatens to spill over into the life of his listener.
Seen in flashbacks, Oscar lures waitress-dancer Mimi back to his Parisian lair where the two engage in every sexual excess – from casual perversion to downright sadomasochism – until they are washed-out, emotional cripples.
Nigel’s stuffy embarrassment is turned to fierce arousal by Mimi, while Fiona tells him that anything he can do she can do better – and sets out to prove it.
This slickly told psychological drama from Polanski should have been played as a Buñuel-esque comedy, but it’s no laughing matter, and ponderous solemnity finally makes it seem too much like a psychiatric casebook of the kind only Polanski could love.
Kristin Scott Thomas