WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
This Special Edition of “Tess” comes to us on DVD from Academy-Award winning director Roman Polanski who adapted the Thomas Hardy 1891 literary masterpiece “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” for the big screen. Originally released in 1979, the movie tells the story of a young maiden named Tess, living in rural Dorset, who discovers that she is actually a descendant of a rich, aristocratic family and is sent by her folks to search them out. This was Nastassja Kinski’s first big role and she was around 15 at the time...a child really.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
When I first saw this in the early eighties, it had just come out and I did like it a lot partly because I had just read the book for English class and I had written a paper on it. I had also just finished reading “Roman” by Polanski, the director’s autobiography so I was into his films. I enjoyed it then, but having re-watched it this weekend, I found it quite slow and very boring. Polanski is a great director, one of my favorites, but a great director does not a fascinating film make. The critical let-down of the film is its length, almost three hours long and slow-paced. That said, TESS does have some good points too and one of those is the cinematography and the spectacular views of the English countryside, especially a shot of Stonehenge which I really liked. The acting by Nastassja is also quite good, considering she had just learned how to speak English (German being her mother tongue) from her mentor, Polanski, who she was allegedly having an affair with too (and taking into account this director’s attraction for very young girls, I would not put it past him.) Nastassja also looked the part of a healthy, naturally pretty country maiden and I think the casting was very good here.
The acting by all three leads was, in fact, very good, but I found the chemistry between Angel (Firth) and Tess (Kinski) to be quite lacking. The romance is not explored enough to let the viewer feel their intense love for one another. I realize that at the time this book was written, it was a scandal for a young woman to have been raped, but it did get to me that she was called a “trollop” by people through no fault of her own. The baby aspect was also hardly addressed which I thought was a pity. Despite these flaws, the film is quite true to the novel, although there are certain omissions that I won’t go into here as they are not that relevant. The film was filmed in France but it really looks like Dorset, where Tess grew up. That’s a plus. The scenery was also breath-taking. It wasn't easy to get this film distributed at the time because of its long running time which I found annoying too, but then again, I usually avoid films that are over two hours long…with some exceptions of course, such as my favorite film of all-time, “Once Upon a Time in the West”. All in all, not a bad film, but definitely not one of my Polanski favorites.
“Tess” From Novel to Screen: There are three features on this DVD that are really part of one big feature, like a “Making Of” that is divided into three parts, and this first part is very interesting especially for anyone who has read Hardy’s novel. Polanski as well as other actors and crew talking about different aspects of the film as they relate to the novel and a look at Hardy’s life and writings too. Polanski’s murdered wife Sharon Tate first introduced him to the novel, and he dedicated the film to her. This is a half hour segment that leads us into the next feature.
Filming Tess: Another half-hour feature that explores the work that went into filming this movie, which was not easy. We hear from a great variety of crew involved with the making of the film, including the hairdresser and the chief electrician which was cool as we rarely get to hear anecdotes from those guys. We also hear from some of the people that were in the first feature, such as Nastassja Kinski, the director, the producer, the screenwriter, and Leigh Lawson, who plays the evil cousin. Some crew speak in French, but we have English subtitles. A death on the set is discussed too, and Nastassja’s eyes fill with tears as she talks about that.
“Tess” The Experience: This feels like a continuation of the previous features, but it’s still good as it tells how the cast and crew really bonded over the making of the film partly because they kept traveling together from one location to another, through one season after another. Twenty minutes long. The make-up artist and costume designer are featured too. Interesting and informative especially the talk about Stonehenge.
Movie Previews: Four film previews of other British films based on novels.
This was not the best film I have seen in a while, but if you adore Hardy and his writings, or if you love films adapted from 19th Century British novels, then this might be your cup of tea. Also, if you're a fan of Polanski or Nastassja, then maybe rent or buy this baby. The features are plentiful and present a very thorough look at all aspects of making this film. But if long, slow-winded films tick you off, avoid this one like the plague. You've been warned.