Tess Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
The surname Durbeyfield is strikingly close to d’Uberville in terms of pronunciation. In terms of class, the former belongs to a clan of poor farmers while the latter is of wealth and nobility. One afternoon, drunken patriarch John Durbeyfield (British actor John Collin) is informed that the Durbeyfields are indeed descendants of the d’Ubervilles.
With that, John sends his only daughter, Tess (Nastassja Kinski, who won a Golden Globe for her performance; she had previously appeared in Wim Wenders’ THE WRONG MOVE and Alberto Lattuada’s STAY AS YOU ARE), to visit the family and work for them. It’s there she meets her “cousin” Alec (Leigh Lawson, Franco Zeffirelli’s BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON), who quickly takes advantage of her. Over time, Tess distances with Alec and goes to work on a dairy farm, where she meets and falls in love with Angel Care (Peter Firth, Sidney Lumet’s EQUUS).
TESS is less focused on the contrasts of various classes during the Victorian era (although this is certainly a significant part of the film) than it is the title girl’s insecurities, loves, lies, and needs. Through her relationships and work, Tess seems doomed to be teased with happiness and a better life, whether by her own doing or not.
Based on Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, TESS is directed by Roman Polanski. While it holds a number of similar themes (consider how many of his films deal with identity and feature either literal or metaphorical rape), it is notably uncharacteristic of the director’s works. And yet it remains, surprisingly enough, one of his more textured films.
TESS features gorgeous and natural cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet (who collaborated with the likes of Woody Allen and Robert Bresson) and Geoffrey Unsworth (CABARET), whose Academy Award-winning work (Unsworth’s Oscar was awarded posthumously, as he died of a heart attack while filming) helps make the film rank as one of the most beautiful-looking films of the 1970s, alongside the likes of BARRY LYNDON and DAYS OF HEAVEN. (Some may categorize TESS as a 1980 film, in which case it is also one of the most beautiful-looking of that decade, as well.) So, too, do the costumes (by Anthony Powell) and the art direction/set decoration (by Pierre Guffroy and Jack Stephens), both of which also won Oscars. (TESS was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Score.)
TESS runs nearly three hours, but it’s not long simply because Polanski wanted it to be an epic. The story, adapted by Polanski, Gerard Brach and John Brownjohn, has to take its time. It needs to allow Tess to establish her character and develop so the viewer can see a fully realized human. She must travel and grow however she sees fit. This is one of the most fascinating characters Kinski has played and it’s also one of her finest performances. Kinski (daughter of Klaus) was just 17 when filming TESS and yet she had a tremendous amount of maturity and knew exactly what her character was, needed and represented.
TESS CRITERION COLLECTION BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 2.35:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “Supervised by director Roman Polanski, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative at Éclair Laboratories in Épinay-sur-Seine, France, France. The film was restored in 4K at Éclair Laboratories.”
Approved by the director himself, this high-definition transfer is faithful to both Polanski’s vision and cinematographers Ghislain Cloquet and Geoffrey Unsworth’s beautiful work. This release is a major upgrade from the initial DVD, with a transfer that is highly detailed throughout (boasting textures in skin, costumes and sets) while still maintaining a filmic look.
Audio: English 5.1 Surround. “The original Dolby stereo soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm 4-track magnetic tracks and restored by L.E. Diapason in Épinay-sur-Seine, with participation of Gérard Lamps.”
The audio transfer is also stellar, creating a natural atmosphere that adds so much to the experience of the film.
CINE REGARDS (48:49): This 1979 episode of the French television program is comprised of behind-the-scenes footage of the film and an interview with director Roman Polanski.
ONCE UP A TIME…“TESS” (52:46): Directed by Daniel Ablin and Serge July, this 2006 documentary explores the making of TESS. Included are interviews with Polanski, star Nastassja Kinski, actor Leigh Lawson, producer Claude Berri, and more.
On the Making of TESS is divided into three segments: From Novel to Screen (28:41), Filming TESS (26:12) and TESS: The Experience (19:39), which detail how the project came about, adapting the novel and the production. Interviewees throughout (in addition to those listed above) include screenwriter John Brownjohn, costume designer Anthony Powell, casting director Mary Selway, and more.
THE SOUTH BANK SHOW (50:27): In this 1979 episode of the British television series, host Melvyn Bragg interviews Polanski about TESS. On-set footage and clips are also included.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a 16-page booklet featuring an essay by critic Colin MacCabe.