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THE NINTH GATE-Spain/France/United States-1999
Directed by Roman Polanski
Screenplay by John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu and Roman Polanski
Based on the novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Confession time; I have only seen one Roman Polanski movie. The other movie was of course Rosemary’s Baby; so it is interesting that the other film would be The Ninth Gate. Also interesting is that both films deal with the subject of the devil, or Lucifer, if you prefer. The former film is about an innocent woman who gives birth to the devil’s child; the latter about a not so innocent man, in fact he’s downright unscrupulous, and his search for the truth about a rare book supposedly written by Satan himself.
Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Donnie Brasco) is Dean Corso, a rare book dealer whose only moral compass is the percentage and the dollar sign. At the beginning of the film, Corso is appraising the library of an old man, a stroke victim. When he comes to the four volume edition of “Don Quixote”, he offers the man’s son and daughter-in-law a paltry sum. The camera closes in on the old man’s hands, unseen by Corso as they clench in anger. I thought this was a clever way of conveying the depths that Corso would go to get what he wants.
Corso is hired by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon, Dracula), the new owner of a book entitled “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, a book written in the seventeenth century by Aristide Torchia and of which only two others are known to be in existence. Balkan reveals that only one is genuine and was reputedly authored by the devil himself. Suspecting that his copy may be a forgery, he arms Corso with a hefty check and sends him to Europe to find and acquire the other two copies at any cost and by any means necessary.
Liana Telfer ( Lena Olin, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Romeo is Bleeding), the wife of the previous owner of the book, who hanged himself after selling it to Balkan, wants the book back for her own reasons; the book was a gift from her husband. She is also willing to go to any means to reunite with the rare volume. The owners of the other two editions meet with violent and mysterious deaths after meeting with Corso. There is also the matter of a mysterious young woman (Emmanuelle Seigner, La Vie En Rose) who tails Corso wherever he goes. There is enough evidence beaten into our skulls as to her true identity, but I will not reveal that and will pretend that the film is a little more subtle than it actually is.
The Ninth Gate is a mixture of mystery, international thriller and quiet horror and therein lays the problem. The film is so altogether uneven that it was difficult to get a grip on it. Just when the pace would pick up director Polanski brings it all to a screeching halt and starts all over again. This method became so frustrating that I nearly turned the film off in anger. The book in the film is supposedly about the methods required in summoning the devil himself. I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that I wish that Polanski had not made his audience jump through so many hoops to get to the end of this movie.
The opening credits feature the camera floating through nine sets of doors before the film begins.
The two booksellers Corso encounters in Toledo are actually the same actor, José López Rodero. Writer/director/producer Roman Polanski used a motion capture rig to use the same actor twice. The same man appears again later, playing two workmen cleaning out the bookstore. Rodero was an assistant director and production manager, not a professional actor. He was hesitant to accept these multiple parts.
The pen that Dean Corso uses is a limited edition Montblanc Agatha Christie ballpoint.
The car that Corso and ‘The Girl’ drive in France is a Chrysler Dodge Viper. The brand logo of Chrysler is a pentagram, the model name is Viper (which refers to the snake from Adam and Eve) and the car itself is painted red, the color of the devil.
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