Based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, Roman Polanski brings the story of a young peasant woman onto the screen. It all starts when Tess’s father, John Durbeyfield, learns that he is descended from an upstanding family; d’Urberville instead of Durbeyfield. He sends his eldest child, Tess, to investigate and make friendly with a family of d’Urbervilles not too far away. There she meets Alec d’Urberville, who refers to her kindly as cousin. After winning just enough trust, he seduces Tess and she shamefully returns home to bear a child. The child dies before it can even have a proper baptism. Tess trudges onto a new life, working on a new farm with other young maidens. There she meets Angel, a charming young man who all the girls have an eye for. He falls for Tess, and asks to marry her. But how can she honestly accept such a proposal with her shady past?
Ah, the trials women live with don’t change much, do they? In the beginning, it seems that Tess has nowhere to go but up and her beauty could help her family achieve a new class. But when she’s raped – oh sorry, “seduced”- she’s worthless. She looks as if she knows she’s lower than dirt and never seems hopeful for anything. A roof over her head is more than she can ask for, so when everyone’s dream boy asks her to marry, it’s too good to be true.
This isn’t a fairy tale, and Tess is well aware of it. For all of you looking for a Cinderella story or the next Pretty Woman, abandon all hope. I won’t tell you what lies ahead, but I’ll do you the favor before your pretty little heads swell with high hopes. Besides, Polanski usually doesn’t leave us feeling all bubbly inside.
The best thing about Tess is its Oscar winning cinematography. Shots are set up wonderfully, without using any fancy tricks. Just seeing the sprawling countryside and depicting the isolation of each house or village is brilliant.
One thing I’m curious about, is if the Stonehenge scene was shot in France as well. Or did they just take a field trip without Polanski, so he wouldn’t be in the kind of trouble he is now?
To be frank, I didn’t care for this film. The story is a classic, I realize that, but it wasn’t that interesting and I could keep a step ahead of it. The whole chauvinistic fall of women, especially in a 19th century setting, is always the same. Tess was nearly three hours too long, and wasn’t even fun to heckle. Polanski has done much better than this.
“What is this strange temptation misery holds for you?”