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"Cul-de-sac" is Roman Polanski's third feature, after "Knife in Water" and "Repulsion." The movie was filmed in and around a castle on the coast of north-east England that is cut off from the mainland for a portion of every day when the tide changes. Here a pair of wounded, on-the-run criminals invade the castle and impose themselves on the slightly-bohemian couple living there. Like all of Polanski's best films, it truly functions as a showcase for the actors, and the central cast here is Donald Pleasence, Francoise Dorleac, and Lionel Standera Brit, a Frog, and an American. There's also a wonderful supporting performance by Irish actor Jack MacGowran. However, it's Pleasance who steals the show. Like Polanski's writing and direction here, Pleasance creates a real tension between realism and delirious mania, thus maintaining a moment-by-moment unpredictability that you simply can't take your eyes off. It's one of the mysteries of cinema history why "Cul-de- sac" has not survived well in the memories of critics nor found a dedicated audience as have most other early Polanski films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A totally far fetched situation is made utterly credible by the sheer craft of the filming - from the first scene where the Morris Minor collapses on its suspension every time Dickie sits down again - and the meticulous attention to detail in performances, dialogue and setting. Lionel Stander (like a Spaghetti Western thug) invades the home of George and Theresa, and whilst of course George is a wimp and possibly impotent too, as a middle class, middle aged married man I can't help wondering what the hell *I* would do in that situation. And given Pleasance's superb performance, that brings out George's vulnerability, he had my sympathy (if not liking) all the way through. The playing is incredibly naturalistic, and I suspect there may be some improvisation there, particularly in that exceptionally long shot beach scene (a remarkably long take for a dialogue scene shot out of doors in England). The language is very natural, the conversation follows its own course, as is so often the way when people are drunk. Dorleac is absolutely gorgeous, playing straight into the camera (it stands in for the bedroom mirror) as she puts on her dress and makeup, and the tragedy of her loss - her early death - shines through with every breath she takes. And another star of the film is Lindisfarne Castle. What stunned me a few years ago when I was in Northumberland is that you can go over to Holy Island (tides permitting) and then you'll see the iconic outline of the Castle, then you climb up to it (up slopes much too steep to really push a Morris Minor!)and virtually every room is unchanged from the film. You still the big oak settle by the kitchen fireplace, you still see the curly wood posts on the bed, and those stairs with the column at the top, and lots of other places. Even settings that look like studio scenes are in fact real rooms you can see. There's nothing about the film in the displays in the castle though. Obviously this is not a movie that appeals to most National Trust members. That, I would say, is their loss. This has got to be one of the top ten best British films.
If we think of Roman Polanski's pieces, Nóz w wodzie (1962)is more
important, Repulsion (1965)is in my opinion almost the best movie ever
made, Rosemary's baby (1968)is more horrifying and Le Locataire (1976)
is more interesting, not to talk about Chinatown (1974) etc.
So why should you see Cul-de-Sac? Because it's polanski and it's not crappy. And because of Catherine Deneuve's sister Francoise Dorleac, who died way too early (in 1967, just some time after she co-starred Les Demoiselles de Rochefort with her sister).
Once again, the main characters are separated from the world and stranger's are getting in from the outside. The movie is fun, weird and of course a must-see for a Polanski fan.
CUL-DE-SAC is a psychological comic thriller as an unusual set of
surreal circumstances in a realistic landscape. The characters are
trapped in a confusing context, which is made up of a mafia, art,
promiscuity and perversions. The story is peppered with all sorts of
antics, but it is not unpleasant. The plots are inconclusive, but its
are enriched with a huge dose of black humor.
A neurotic and effeminate middle-aged Englishman named George lives with his promiscuous young French wife Teresa in a dark castle on a hilltop. Two gangsters, after the unexpected upward tide, invade their messy home and hold them as hostage. Teresa is mad at her timid husband, who does not take any action on the bandits. Gangsters are starting to behave a bit eccentric, while waiting for help from his boss. Uninvited guests come to a visit. Simply, someone has to "boil over"...
Mr. Polanski, in this film, covers topics such as the alienation and a latent madness, which are closely related to a sexual activity. He has managed to replace an emotional void in this film with a combination of black humor, crime and perversion. The characterization is not bad.
Donald Pleasence as George is a kinky and fun husband who has his grotesque moments in this film. He is a man who feels comfortable in a transparent nightgown but he, with a huge dose of disgust, takes a gun in his hand. That is a phenomenal paradox of the situation in the world. His cowardice is ambiguous, because, despite everything, he wants to return a harmonious relation in his home. Lionel Stander as Dickey, through his gangster attitude, distinctive voice and eccentric behavior enjoys the general madness. Françoise Dorléac as Teresa is a beautiful, attractive and nude factor of confusion between George and Dickey.
Mr. Polanski has skillfully managed to balance all segments in this film, but this story still reminds me to a sexy morbid joke.
Finally had the opportunity to watch this film. I love Roman Polanski's
work. The first two films of The Apartment trilogy are phenomenal. Even
his recent stuff is so good (I'm talking especially about Carnage).
This is a film he worked on in between Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby
and going in I had no idea what it was about. After watching I don't
think its among Polanski's best but still enjoyable and pretty damn
frenetic like most of his work at the time.
The film follows a gangster and his dying partner who take refuge in a castle out in an island. On this island lives quite a neurotic man and his girlfriend and they kind of have to give into the whims of their captor. In a way push comes to shove and things get hectic between the trio and others coming onto the island. Its hard to explain this film fully giving it justice without spoiling. While the film has flaws and isn't as memorable as some of his others that came out at the same time.
It doesn't really tap into fear and paranoia like Rosemary's Baby and Repulsion; its another thing thematically. I think the comedic aspect of the film kind of hurts it from being one of Polanski's finer works. I think Polanski knows how to tap into fear, anxiety, paranoia and this film is pretty void of that. It's nice seeing Donald Pleasance in something so different prior to his Halloween days.
Overall, its worth a watch for people who really like Polanski's work although he is capable of much better. Its still an alluring experience as with most of his work. It doesn't quite feel as claustrophobic a film as it could be (with the title and his other work). I might go on a bit of a Polanski binge and watch a bunch of other stuff I haven't seen. Or, revisit some of his best which should be fun.
Gruff Richard (Lionel Stander) drives his heavily wounded companion
Albie to the English seaside. He finds George (Donald Pleasence) and
his flirtatious French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorléac) vacationing at
their island castle and takes them hostage. As Richard waits for his
gangster leader, George's annoying friends surprise them with a visit.
This is black and white, and Roman Polanski's second English film. Jackie Bisset has an early minor role. This is an art house film with an eccentric blend of surreal comedy and thriller horrors. Everybody is a little off-center but not quirky enough to be funny. There is tension but it never really rises. Lionel Stander is terrific with his powerful presence. It does need George and Teresa to cower in order accentuate the terror but they are odd characters. They don't act right but it's not surreal enough to be intriguing. This is an eccentric indie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I could totally identify with the characters in this film. Especially
the one played by Donald Pleasance. He plays one of the most pathetic
characters in the history of cinema. When the villain (a gangster on
the run) first meets Pleasance, he has make up and a nightie on. It is
all downhill for him after that. I saw the film as being about people
who are hiding from the world. But the cruel and evil outside world
keeps coming for them. There is no stopping the outside world from
coming for a pathetic person like George (Pleasance). Even if you live
on a remote island. Even his girlfriend (the beautiful Francoise
Dorleac) gets a kick out of humiliating him.
Some of the scenes in the film, like when Pleasance and his girlfriend try to suck up-to the gangster are funny but also reveal so much about human nature. Polanski knows so much about mankind and human nature. He is not someone to be taken lightly. Nor should he be locked up in jail. I hope he makes many more movies.
Polanski seems to have a thing for films of place. The Fearless Vampire Killers and Ghost Writer were films of place. So is Cul De Sac. The film can be enjoyed for its location alone. The deserted island with the large villa at the top and the water that comes in during the high tide all make for some spectacular visuals.
Roman Polanski and his screenwriter in this film, Gerard Brach, were
said to be enamored of theater of the absurd during their sojourn in
Paris in the mid-60s, and wished to make a cinematic version of the
then prevailing absurdist drama. It's been reported that they asked
Samuel Becket, of "Waiting for Godot" fame, if they could film one of
his absurdist dramas, particularly Godot, but he refused saying that
his plays were meant for the stage, and only the stage. So Brach and
Polanski decided to write their own absurdist film script and wrote
"Cul-De-Sac" while in France, but could find no financial backing which
they later sought in England. Financial support was also difficult to
find in England but their success with Repulsion (1965), a
psychological-horror film, made financing available for Cul-De-Sac,
which was the film they wanted to make all along. In an interview in
1970 (before Chinatown), Polanski called it "my best film. I always
loved it. I always believed in it. It is real cinema."
What it is is "absurdist" cinema that simultaneously, and not separately, combines melodrama and comedy, where two dim-witted, small-time gangsters confront a sadomasochistic couple in a Gothic, horror-like setting. The two criminals, trying to get away from a job they botched for the mysterious Mr. Katelbach, lose their auto on the causeway to a medieval castle on a island just off the Northumberland coast in England, and as the tide comes in, they find themselves trapped on the island with the couple who live in the foreboding castle, or rather the couple finds themselves trapped with the hoods. And so begins the wait for the rescue by Ketelbach who is sure to turn up and rescue these dim-wits from the authorities who are surely on their tail. The owner, George, is older than his wife, somewhat effete and scared, and scorned by his wife, who's sexually flirtatious; the two hoods have been shot, one is dying, and the other (Dickie) uses towels as a bandage and becomes increasingly abusive, albeit in a comical way. The actions and dialogue of the four often make no sense, but there's some macabre humor when the castle receives visitors and the couple, afraid of revealing Dickie to be who he is, use him as their butler, but the rough hood's manners, movements, and speech indicate he's never worked at Downton Abbey. In the end, one of the characters dies, one is shot, one goes crazy, and one goes off with an apparent new lover, but has Ketelbach shown up?
Technically, this is a well-shot film, as you might expect from a Polanski film, but I don't believe absurdist drama is perfectly made for film. I believe absurdist drama is more suitable for the stage where dialogue is everything, but I'm sure some readers can cite examples that can refute my assertion. In any event, the weird humor might have been more compelling in the 1960s than I found it in 2015.
I favor dark comedies bordering on the surreal & Polanski does best. Well deserved kudos from Berlin, which I managed to see shortly thereafter in Philadelphia's wonderful Bandbox Theater which was almost empty, IMSMC. I have seen it once again since years ago in Boston & was delighted to see MGM's digital version on cable, which seems an excellent reproduction. Some of the other reviews here sorely missed the point. The setting is Lindisfarne, a holy island in northern England. Ms. Bisset has a line, which is one of my favorites. This is a very dark comedy indeed that was way ahead of its time, which even today confuses many viewers, including some reviewers here. A pity Françoise Dorléac went the James Dean route shortly after filming this, her best role.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was reading some of the messages posted by members who express their regret that they couldn't find the film on DVD here in the UK. Now you can. I bought mine about three years ago, an edition from Odeon Entertainment. Together with "Knife in the water" and "Repulsion" it makes the collector's trilogy of Polanski's pre-Hollywood films, all of them digitally remastered and presented in their original aspect ratio, and accompanied by some interesting behind- the-scenes documentaries and archive interviews with Polanski. Cul-de-Sac was filmed entirely on location in one of the most remote corners of England and a place that seems the product of some fantasy tale -I was there in 2001, drove a hired car from Edinburgh and got to the island during the low tide, a nice experience to remember. The film opens with a view of the long, deserted road. A car in the distance is slowly advancing towards the camera in a rather erratic way. We soon meet the burly, raspy-voiced Dickie(Lionel Stander), who is pushing the car along, and the skinny and ridiculous-looking Albie (Jack MacGowran) sitting at the wheel. We can just figure out they are two crooks on the run after some failed hit, for Albie has been shot in the stomach and Dickie in one arm. The stolen car has run out of petrol and they don't know where they are. Albie is "fed-up" a line he will repeat now and again throughout the film-, and Dickie then decides to follow the telephone wires,leaving Albie to wait in the car. He almost bumps into a young semi-naked couple idling in the dunes, and avoiding them he next comes to a castle on the shore. He hides in a chicken house and falls asleep. Meanwhile we have met the castle's owners: the weird couple formed by the foolish Donald Pleasance and his frustrated young wife Francoise Dorleac. It is soon clear to us that the relationship between these two is anything but a happy marriage. They don't seem to have any common interests, the whole place is an absolute mess with the chickens roaming all over the house, and Teresa is continuously making fun of George while he acts like a total idiot. Dickie wakes up, enters the house in the dark, helps himself to some milk and makes a phone call to his boss. He is careless about all the noise he makes, and soon the proprietors come downstairs to investigate. He faces them with great cheek and even sense of humour, and George proves to be a coward as he lets himself be bullied by the thug. Teresa stands up to Dickie with loud words and insolence, but he regards her just as a very noisy hen but harmless. He then makes the pair to go help him him to collect Albie back in the beach. Later he gets to speak to his boss, and after being told he will be collected by the gang in the morning he makes himself comfortable, humiliating George now and again while developing a liking for Teresa's nagging at his husband and her absolute lack of fear of Dickie. Albie dies during the night, and they bury him in the grounds. In the morning, rather than Dickie's mates, who arrives,unannounced, are some friends of George instead, getting on the nerves of the three protagonists as they don't know how to get rid of the party now. The nosey, self-inviting guests prove to be a real nuisance. When the hyperactive child shoots with a gun and destroys one of the medieval windows,George throws the clan out of the castle at last. Dusk comes, and Dickie's gang didn't show up at all. He phones his boss again, only to be passed a "fuck off" message from him through a third part. Totally mad and feeling he has been betrayed, he takes George's car to get away, but gets shot and killed by George during a rather pathetic confrontation. One of the afternoon guests then appears; he is coming to pick up the gun he forgot behind earlier. Teresa goes away with him. George, totally cracked-up and now alone in the deserted castle smashes the place, and then ends up running in the beach until he gets closed-up up by the rising tide. At the first viewing one thinks: "And this is it? One hour and three quarters of kinky nonsense with the most stupid people, to come to such idiotic ending? What a total crap". I first saw the film when I was thirteen. I didn't understand it and I actually thought it was idiotic. The second time, many years later and after I had seen a lot of really idiotic crap films, I just loved it: Polanski's stylish direction, those wonderful long takes, the stark black and white cinematography, the musical score, the black humour, the comic relief provided by Albie (how long does it take to die with a belly full of holes, for god's sake??!!...) and the unique setting provided by Lindisfarne. A surrealistic cinematic experience.
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