I understand Roman Polanski is top of many people’s shit list right now. A serial rapist is not exactly the sort of person you want to be praising. Yet on seeing the movie ‘Tess’ again recently I have to do just that. But remember I praise the work not the man.
It’s hard actually to square the brutal acts of Polanski with this sensitive portrayal of a young peasant girl who, oh irony, is raped at one point in the film by a powerful upper class ne’er do well.
Tess is played by the quite ravishing beautiful Natassja Kinski who is in many ways a strange choice to play an English country girl but her foreign, outsider-ness actually works quite well in portraying a woman always shut out of the good life by circumstance, or more accurately men.
Her father is a drunken lazy lout, her lovers unfeeling and judgmental by turns. Angel Claire the man, who unless we have read the book, we feel might actually be able to save her from the cruel hand fate has dealt her turns out to be so priggish and judgmental that on learning she has been raped sees her as sullied and weak.
This is almost a feminist manifesto showing the reason why 19th and indeed 20th century women needed economic power to free themselves very the clutches of a class system that has them somewhere on the level of cattle.
It also shows how the notion of romance is in itself the ultimate enslaver as it promises only a false dawn that in this country world leads to a bitter harvest.
Of course, everything is quite exquisitely shot. Images look like 19th century paintings and have been colored accordingly in a beautiful transfer courtesy of Criterion.
If you can look beyond the fact it is by Polanski it well worth revisiting