Two Men and a Wardrobe

(Roman Polanski, Poland, 1958)


Although Roman Polanski made several notable shorts in his film-school days, Two Men and a Wardrobe is the one that first gained him global attention.


Surrealistic and absurdist, it can still serve as a good model for the short film form: strictly visual (topped with a melancholic jazz score), perfectly self-contained, with a well-shaped theme-and-variations structure.


Two men emerge from the sea carrying a wardrobe. In their efforts to find a resting place, they encounter only hostility, prejudice and violence. All hopeful visions of innocence are quickly sullied or crushed.


Polanski, already a dark social critic, shows us in sidelong glimpses, that such dysfunction and animal regression are the daily norm for all people.


The plight of the two men is clearly emblematic and allegorical, but Polanski leaves its interpretation open: ‘It was the only film I’ve made that “meant” something. It was about the intolerance of society toward somebody who is different.’ (1) Accordingly, various commentators see in it a symbol for the plight of the homeless, the racially outcast, gays or those persecuted for their religious beliefs …


The tale is cyclical and entropic, but is punctuated by lovely poetic moments – plus a sense of knockabout, burlesque comedy that owes much to Chaplin and silent cinema.

© Adrian Martin 2001

MORE Polanski: Chinatown, Cul-de-Sac, Death and the Maiden, The Fat and the Lean, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Frantic, The Ninth Gate, Repulsion, The Tenant, Tess, The Pianist, Knife in the Water


1. Joseph Gelmis, The Film Director as Superstar (Middlesex: Penguin, 1970), p. 204. back

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search