Is you ain’t my baby?

Monica LaBelle

if you are debating whether or not to pursue homemaking in the city, watch Rosemary’s Baby (1968), playing this Monday at the Oak Street Cinema as part of their retrospective of films by Polish director Roman Polanski. But potential homemakers beware: This film-course classic has the cinematic ability to make a basic piece of toast look sickly.

Rosemary (a waifish Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy (a brooding John Cassavetes) live in a tall-ceilinged New York apartment next to a old pair of busybodies (played with garrulous menace by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer). Between late-night servings of chocolate mousse, these patriarchal two insinuate Guy into a pact with Satan to trade Rosemary’s forthcoming baby for a successful film career. (Surely, this is not a rare deal for the Hollywood-bound). Rosemary doesn’t know it, but almost everyone near her is invested in the health of her child for Satan’s sake.

It is not rituals nor chants that soak Rosemary’s Baby with a sense of ominousness (although Polanski consulted with Church of Satan-founder Anton LaVey, who makes a cameo as the devil). Instead, well-timed moments of airy silence and shots of Farrow’s near-skeletal face give the film a distant, helpless effect ñ viewers may feel as though they were watching an old person try to delicately chew a sugar cookie without moving his teeth out of their sockets.

The film’s straightforward plotting (borrowed, line-for-line, from the bestselling novel by Ira Levin) leaves enough room for idle moments that suck you into Rosemary’s pathetic world: As she grows suspicious about the contents of her swelling stomach, those around her smile sympathetically, but otherwise ignore her. Ever in the background of the movie is the stillness of a well-cared for home; Rosemary’s well-kempt world is speckled with polite neighborly conversations and angry dismissals. But this alternates with close-ups of Farrow, who grows increasingly haunted.

The near-transparency of Farrow’s skin and the back-arching fragility of her frame are an effective and constant sympathy-enducer, adding to her little girl quality. And it’s this quality that heightens the movie’s apparent message – that a traditional domestic life turns a woman into servant to her husband and household. And here is the most frightening message of the film: That a housewife can expect nothing in return for her services but maltreatment and bastardly, evil children who are meant to blacken the world. Anyone who must tend to housekeeping and an ornery 2-year-old will probably agree.

Rosemary’s Baby. Unrated. Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon. Paramount Pictures. Plays Monday along with Frantic at the Oak Street Cinema.