The Fat and The Thin
Slave struggles to please his master in Polanski’s exploration of inequality
Free To View
Producer/s : Jean-Pierre Rousseau, Roman Polanski
Director/s : Roman Polanski,
Writer/s : Roman Polanski,
Actor/s : Roman Polanski, André Katelbach
Polish film training always emphasised the visual – the National Film School still doesn’t let students use dialogue through their first two years. Little surprise then to find Polanski shooting silent films into his late 20s. This came just a year before his first feature, which was Oscar-nominated for best foreign film, and brought him to Hollywood’s attention.
Polanski plays a slave who dances and capers for the Fat Man, who sits in the sun outside a big house. He fans him, bathes his feet, cooks, administers to his every need, even placing a piss-pot in position, so the fat master doesn’t have to stir himself.
The slave flees, only to be lured back with the gift of a goat. To which he is chained, making his life harder still. When the Fat Man relents and unhitches the goat, it’s to release the goat, not the slave.
Its message is unsubtle, but the film is inventive and amusing, with echoes of Jacques Tati, Mr Bean’s Grand-daddy, who was huge in Europe in the late 50s. We might question whether the theme of slavery should be permitted to amuse us, and indeed we’re invited to, through two chilling scenes near the end. In one, he shaves the Fat Man with a cut-throat razor, and we think “Do it!” (and recall DiCaprio’s speech in Django Unchained, about Old Ben, the slave who shaved his father and his grandfather every day for years.)
Then he carries a target for the Fat Man to shoot arrows at. During the war, German soldiers got the 10-year old Roman to hold targets as they fired. Knowing Polanski was exorcising at least some of his demons puts the film in a different light. Is it less a representation of slavery, and more an exploration of enforced acquiescence to it?