THE FAT AND THE LEAN (Roman Polanski, 1961)

Roman Polanski acts in the two-character, dialogueless 14-minute film he made in France right after graduating from film school, “Le gros et le maigre.” He is “le maigre.”
     The opening sideways shot outside a wealthy fat man’s rural house places the skinny, barefooted servant in the foreground, his master in the background. “Le gros” sits, rests; the servant is busy, beating a drum with one hand and playing a flute with the other: a one-man band performing for the pleasure of his master, for whom he dances in the field: ordered self-expression, art under duress—a metaphor for the warping of spirit that human relationships predicated on vastly unequal power constitute.
     The boy anticipates, anticipates and hops to. When the master starts fanning himself with his hat, the boy runs inside, bringing out a feather broom to do the job more effectively; when the master takes off his shoes, the boy runs inside, bringing out a basin of water so that the master can cool and soak his feet. Birds fly overhead—a snapshot of the boy’s wistful wish for freedom; but no sooner than they appear, the boy runs inside, bringing out his master’s rifle, with which the master shoots down a bird that the boy must take indoors to cook for the master.
     Sights of Paris in the distance deepen the boy’s desire for freedom, but his attempted escape is punished. A goat is chained to his ankle, hobbling the boy, who now dances less Isadorably than earlier. Worse: he is being seduced into feeling grateful for whatever the master does, in fact, for his own benefit. The master unchains the goat, and the boy kisses his hand (he does this often), the Eiffel Tower behind him—in our view; not his.

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