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Directed by Roman Polanski

USA, 1974

Cornerhouse, 21 April 2013


You cannot deny that Polanski has a profound ability to disorient and disconcert the viewer.

During this sunlit LA escapade, Nicholson’s PI Jake Gittes is our eyes and ears, were alongside him every step of the way, and like him we’re never quite certain what the hell is going on.

You trust his integrity, that is established early on, yet he has evident shortcomings.  The will to do right is there but between his general confusion and his middling intelligence and his slip-shod decision-making, he manages to make matters worse and place his client and others in danger.  You cannot blame Jake entirely, mind, for the fellow is accustomed to dealing with cases where spouses suspect infidelity and here he is confronted with an evil he cannot comprehend.

Dialectic of Enlightenment, that would be an apt description of the nature of Jake’s journey, and it’s also the title of a work by Adorno and Horkheimer, written when the former lived in LA, about a decade on from when the film is set.

Polanski’s neo-noir vision is of a world where the guardian angels are flawed, the innocent perish and evil triumphs.  It is compelling stuff.  Indeed, this film is as fine a Southern California PI yarn as any Chandler or Ross Macdonald novel you might mention.

Chinatown is showing again on Wednesday as part of the Matinee Classics season, further details are here.