Cherchez la femme

Roman Polanski’s Frantic (1988) is probably his most Hitchcockian film (it even makes a direct nod to the Statue of Liberty finale from Saboteur), and it has a first act that unfolds so elegantly that the Master of Suspense himself probably could not have improved upon it.  Harrison Ford and Betty Buckley are a married American couple who have just landed in Paris, where he has come to attend a medical conference.  They settle into their hotel suite and gently gripe at each other in such a way that we can’t tell whether there is some discontent festering beneath what appears to be a long and happy marriage or whether they’re just jetlagged.  They discover that she accidentally picked up someone else’s suitcase upon leaving the airport.  She answers the door while he is in the shower.  And then, suddenly, she is gone.  The lady vanishes.

Frantic is organized around a quintessentially Hitchcockian premise in which an ordinary person in an unfamiliar locale is plunged into a nightmare scenario, a mystery which he must work to solve with the help of a stranger (in this case Emmanuelle Seignier, in the first of three films she would make with Polanski).  The procedural elements of Frantic are not quite up to the quality of its opening; at times they feel perfunctory.  But that opening is enough to suggest that Polanski was/is probably the second best director of thrillers in cinema.

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