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Its a commonplace that directors like Woody
Allen and Roman Polanski, still making films into their seventies, can no longer summon
the command of expression that made them such icons thirty years ago. And while the
Wood-mans latest, Match Point, is rumored
to break him from his rutit premiered to great acclaim at Cannes earlier in the year
but was curiously elided from both Toronto and the New York Film Festivalthe knock
against Polanski has been that his recent films have lacked personal conviction.
This is a strange accusation to make against the man who won Best Picture and Direction honors at the Academy Awards two years ago for The Pianist, a holocaust drama that by all accounts drew upon Polanskis own flight from
If that sound likes damning the master with faint praise, consider this: Few directors have Polanskis penchant for bleak humor, which makes him the ideal candidate for Dickens. Twist is, of course, the ür-tale of urchin tales, the story of a young ward of the state who is met with the grossest negligence at every turn throughout his childhood. Polanski opens with woodblock-etching titles that fade into the grimy slate-gray skies as the boy is trundled before a cartel of well-fed workhouse owners who ask him to testify to how well hes been treated. Polanski shoots the scene with a cramped clutter of medium close-ups, as if to imply these unfeeling old men mean to eat the boy next. The sight of wraith-thin Oliver (played with un-showy precision by Barney Clark) is enough to put the audience on edge and still draw out a knowing laugh, setting the tone for the piece. All this just barely out of the opening credits.
Such economy serves Polanski wellbe sure to arrive on time or risk missing the classic Please, sir, can I have some more? lineas he moves briskly through Olivers being sold to a chimney sweep and his eventual escape to London. Once there, Oliver takes up with a group of street kids to rival the slums of
What makes Olivers story so appealing is its universal resonance. He has an opportunity to go straight, to make right for himself, but his past keeps catching up with him. Polanski deserves credit for never losing sight of the humanity in these characters, even the unfeeling ones with names like Sowerberry; his holocaust memories taught him that human kindness can be revealed even under the most dire conditions of survival. Polanski fans may find fault with this burnished Illustrated Classics edition, expecting a darker adaptation of the source material. If nothing else, Polanskis Oliver Twist proves that old directors dont die, they just go sepia-tone.
- Jesse Paddock