Much as I detest Hugh Grant in any film post- Four Weddings and a Funeral, I don't mind him in the earlier stuff. In this film, he plays Nigel, an unwordly Brit who with his wife Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) goes on a nice cruise to India. Unfortunately, they meet Mimi (Emmanelle Seigneur) and Oscar (Peter Coyote). So much for being nice to the other passengers.
The bulk of the film is a flashback to Mimi and Oscar's romance, which starts off endearingly innocent then as Oscar becomes bored with her, they indulge in some kinkiness, including a farcical attempt at farmyard roleplay, before descending into emotional and physical sadism. Nigel becomes more and more disturbed by the story but keeps on returning. His reactions to the story add to some of the film's humour.
Humour? Well, it's an odd film: a sort of tragedy-black comedy-romance-thriller. Oscar's lingering descriptions of sexual activity are hilariously odd- he's a failing writer- but the story is actually quite sad. Although the way in which the torture is manifested is odd, it's a situation that many can empathise with, as their relationship becomes destructive.
As this is a Roman Polanski film, you might view it as erotica but I think it's better than that. It's absurd but compelling, getting to the dark heart of relationships and daring to show what can happen once a relationship becomes sour.
Seigneur is beautiful and easily morphs between innocent girl and sadistic slut. Coyote, in the central part, is bitter, regretful and suitably unhinged. As the loony couple, both are entertaining but the tragedy still lurks beneath. Grant and Scott Thomas as the normal couple have much less to do but they do normal, uptight and British very well. Grant actually does what I might call a good job in the part of the 'audience'. He is a sort of reluctant voyeur, enraptured and repulsed by Oscar's narrative. Scott Thomas's character could be dealt with better; when she is given an action, it seems like a trick to try and sex the film up (she plays a better form of indirect voyeur in Dans La Maison).
It's a long film but continually compelling as you wonder how far everybody will go. The ending feels a little scatty and cliched and I think Polanski could have made it even darker, but it's still an interesting genre-bending film.