This boxset shows how capable DVD is of offering a great film package to the cineaste- this set focuses on the early work of Roman Polanski, prior to his descent into mediocrity with films like Pirates, Frantic & The Ninth Gate (with the odd good film like Tess, Bitter Moon & Death and the Maiden) Included in this set are not only great documentaries on those early films (featurettes/trailers etc) but a series of surreal short films (Two Men & a Wardrobe, When Angels Fall, A Murderer etc) that rank next to the best of European cinema (Antonioni, Bunuel, Herzog,Vigo) & are worth the price of entry alone. Here we can see how vital the short film is, & how Polanksi began to deal with certain themes that would recur, notably in the periof from his debut Knife in the Water to The Tenant (1976).
Knife in the Water (Noz w Wodzie, 1962) was Polanski's Oscar-nominated debut- detailing a young couple intersecting with a lone hitchhiker on a yacht. Predating Dead Calm (1989) by a few decades &, like Hitchcock, there is a sense of sex & violence lurking beneath the surface. A bold debut & the kind of thriller that is sadly not seen these days **** Repulsion (1965) saw Polanski come to the UK, personally I think this is his strongest film, just pipping Chinatown (1974) in the masterpiece stakes. Here Catherine Deneuve plays a lone Belgian manicurist in swinging London, slowly going insane & drifting into psychopathic behaviour- somewhere between Blow Up (1966) & JG Ballard's book The Atrocity Exhibition (1968) in tone. Elements are shared with Hitchcock (notably Psycho) and later films such as Night of the Living Dead, Shivers (which has a not unsimilar hands through walls scene), Hellraiser (taking back men to kill)& parts of David Lynch- notably Mulholland Drive. The dialogue & plot are minimal, the film relies on atmosphere and imagery- disturbing, potent, surreal...Repulsion is, to quote JG Ballard, "Kafka reshot in the style of Psycho". Polanski's masterpiece, a cerebral horror film that might be locked into a period but remains timeless ***** The final film in this set is Cul-De-Sac(1966), the last film he made in Europe prior to moving to Hollywood to make films like The Fearless Vampire Killers & Rosemary's Baby. Polanski has often cited this as his favourite film- there is more than a hint of Harold Pinter (The Dumb Waiter, The Birthday Party) here- a black comedy with gangsters and cross-dressing in! The performances are great, notably from Donald Pleasance & Catherine Deneuve's sister, the late Francoise Dorleac. The film feels European and strange in tone- which is only something that recurs in Polanski's later work to a small degree (eg. the Kitty-nosecutting scene in Chinatown; Adjani in The Tenant) It's odd & absurd and endearing & is, in truth, almost brilliant ****
This DVD boxset is a great primer in Roman Polanski, each of the films are well worth watching, though perhaps it's the short-films that are the most interesting (these three films have been on VHS before, Cul&Repulsion both budget priced VHS-videos). A wonderful set & evidence of how great DVD's can be when put together with something more than just a few offcuts and lame interviews/commentaries, prior to a two-disc "definitive" set within the year, with more chuff etc.