A mute woman along with her young daughter, and her prized piano, are sent to 1850s New Zealand for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, and she's soon lusted after by a local worker on the plantation.
In the Victorian period, a rural clergyman tells John Durbeyfield, a simple farmer, that he is descended from the illustrious d'Urberville family -- now extinct. Or maybe not. Durbeyfield sends his daughter Tess to check on a family named d'Uberville living in a manor house less than a day's carriage ride away. Alec d'Urberville is delighted to meet his beautiful "cousin" and seduces her with strawberries and roses. Actually, Alec has gotten his illustrious name and coat of arms by purchasing them. Tess also takes up the game of illusion when she finds, loses and finds again her true love Angel Claire. Written by
Dale O'Connor <email@example.com>
Director of Photography Geoffrey Unsworth died of a heart attack during the third week of shooting at the end of October 1978. Most of the film's scenes shot by him were exteriors in the first half of the movie and can be noticed by some fog and slight diffusion. Ghislain Cloquet shot the second half and the remaining of the movie with most of his scenes in interiors with no diffusion. Rumor has that among the scenes shot by Unsworth before his death were:
1) The foggy day-to-night seduction in the woods
2) The tent and the strawberries when Tess is in the D'Uberville mansion.
Polanski's 'Tess' is rich with images and poetry. To start with, the director really does make use of the countryside and life in the country during the late 1800s. Those themes are presented as characters themselves. And, coupled with the fitting score it gives a feel of what the time may have been like. Along with some fine cinematography, many of the shots linger on the beautiful and yet sad countryside.
The pacing is exceptionally well maintained. 'Tess' is longer than the traditional 100 minute flick but not for a moment does it feel as though it's lagging or dragging in pace.
Another strength of the film is its subtlety. For example, to the director's credit, there's an outstanding sequence of how murder is implied just with a few drops of blood. Even the finally sequence (beautifully done) implies Tess's fate (before the epilogue clarifies it). 'Tess' touches on some heavy themes such as sexism, poverty and betrayal but it doesn't preach about them. Rather it tells the story of a strong-willed, devoted and kind woman who was faulted for being beautiful.
Moreover, the characters are brilliantly layered. The screenplay has safely avoided caricatures). A very young Nastassja Kinski is incredible in one of her early roles. Her restrained performance and gestural expressions are remarkable. Peter Firth does a fine job too. They are supported by very good performers.
This is easily one of Polanski's finest: his most subtle and poetic films. A treat to watch.
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