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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Polanski's Tess of the D'Urbevilles, 15 April 2014
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This review is from: Tess (DVD & Blu-ray) [1979] (DVD)
Notwithstanding the fact that many reviewers have given this film five stars, I have to say that I found this much touted production disappointing. True, Nastassja Kinski is a ravishing beauty, as one reviewer points out, but, whether or not she is a fine actress overall, this role, surely was never meant for her. She pouts her way through the story with as little feeling as it is possible to have, and her speaking role is reduced to short, monosyllabic comments. Most of the time she doesn't react at all, whatever fate throws at her. And this is precisely the point. Fate throws a good deal at Tess, and in Hardy's novel she meets it with courage and passion. She fights her fate with feeling. In this film she seems to just allow it to roll over her. Perhaps the scriptwriter felt that Kinski's accent would be too off-putting if she was allowed to say too much. Certainly, Tess is supposed to be a sturdy Wessex country lass - a role of which Kinski is simply not capable. Both Justine Waddell and Gemma Arterton in the respective alternative versions are much more convincing in the role, with Waddell just shading it for me.

There are also important phases in the plot missing from this film, so that the impression is a series of tableaux or scenas rather than Hardy's continuous plot. For instance, no sooner has Tess arrived for a winter on the notorious upland farm than she is seen arriving at the home of Angel's parents some 20 miles away. Although this follows the sequence of Hardy's plot, so much is missing that without having first read the book, it is virtually impossibly to understand what Tess is doing there.

The final scenes, in which Angel and Tess meet at Sandbourne and Tess murders Alec, fall particularly flat. Here is supposed to be the climax of the story, full of passion and tension. Tess is supposed to have a blazing row with Alec, yet in this film all we get is a few moments of sobbing - it isn't even hysterical sobbing either, yet with Kinski this is about as passionate as it gets. Watch this scene in the Waddell version if you want to find out what Hardy was driving at.

It would be churlish to deny that there are some good points. The minor characters who play the country folk are generally quite convincing, and there is some evocative filming, particularly of the winter landscapes and the desperate conditions. The music score, too, is evocative and helps the film along. All in all, though, the production could have been so much better.
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