Jerzy Skolimowski Richard Combs - Essay

Richard Combs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Skolimowski's erratic, piecemeal, yet distinctly Nabokovian adaptation of King, Queen, Knave seems subsequently to have been abandoned to its own hermetic limbo; one of those freakishly unreal landscapes that Skolimowski has scattered across the continent….

Skolimowski thus adds his own twist to Nabokov's explanation of how, in dealing with German characters in a German setting, his ignorance of all things German 'answered my dream of pure invention'; and the film slyly demonstrates that the Nabokovian mechanics are still in good working order, though in the hands of a new engineer. (p. 53)

Centred vaguely on the efforts of the mad inventor commissioned by Dreyer to develop mechanical mannequins out of his bizarre discovery of a perfect rubber substitute for skin, Nabokov's ironic manipulations of his characters emphasised how, in their respective dreams and schemes, they reduced each other to dummies, playing-cards, inanimate articles, and worse. More eccentric in his stylisation, Skolimowski achieves the same effect with fizzing changes of mood, suggesting instead of teasing layers of dream fitful explosions of obsession….

Skolimowski undoubtedly loses out to Nabokov at the periphery, where such incidental characters in the novel as the old landlord Enricht occasionally shuffle centre stage and seem about to take over the whole fiction ('For he knew perfectly well—had known for the last eight years at least—that the whole world was but a trick of his'). The sideline figures of the film—like the old man who stumbles by with a cross, temporarily barring Frank's way to another battering tryst—become just so many impedimenta, part of the bizarrely jangled soundtrack accompaniment to the obliviously comic danse macabre of the principal clowns. (p. 54)

Richard Combs, "'King, Queen, Knave'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1974 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 43, No. 1, Winter, 1973–74, pp. 53-4.