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When we last encountered director Roman Polanski (pictured, foreground), he had just signed up Johnny Depp (pictured, background) for membership in the Satanic Book Club and was trying to convince us that his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, was the devil herself. The movie was 1999’s The Ninth Gate, a pale shadow of the director’s biggest Hollywood success, Rosemary’s Baby, but its sex-and-death themes reflect obsessions that date back to Polanski’s very first feature, 1962’s Knife in the Water (and his childhood as a survivor of the Krakow ghetto). Filmed with utmost economy under the supervision of Poland’s communist authorities—who subsequently denounced it—the film features only a car, a sailboat, and three actors, only one of whom was a professional. (Polanski discovered female lead Jolanta Umecka while she was sunbathing and initially planned to play the younger male part himself; ultimately, he dubbed his voice over Zygmunt Malanowicz’s.) The movie starts as an older, wealthy couple nearly runs over a hitchhiker and then offers to take him along on their sailing trip. Isolated on the sailboat, the two men bicker, competing for the woman’s attention in a way that’s both a primal rivalry and a self-conscious game. Polanski emphasized the sense of menace with a wide-angle lens and extreme angles, bringing the visual vocabulary of the horror film to this psychological drama. The movie won the International Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, establishing Polanski’s career. With bigger budgets and brighter stars, however, he never made a more crisply ominous film. Knife in the Water screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, at the Library of Congress’ Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. For reservations call (202) 707-5677. (Mark Jenkins)