Blu-ray: Cul-de-Sac | reviews, news & interviews
Nasty, brutish and not short: Polanski's absurdist noir comedy set in Northumberland
Has the British seaside ever looked more alien than in Roman Polanski’s absurdist drama Cul-de-Sac? Filmed on Holy Island, the tide steals the causeway that led craggy American gangster, Richard (played by Lionel Stander) to an isolated, run-down castle where he proceeds to terrorise the couple who live there. Richard’s partner in a heist-gone-wrong drowns slowly in their getaway car – they’ve stolen a driving instructor’s jalopy – and he holes up with George (Donald Pleasence) and Teresa (Francoise Dorléac) and torments them.
Very much influenced by Beckett and Pinter, this black comedy revolves around sexual identity and psychological humiliation, and was fêted by intellectuals in its day (it was released in 1966). While the reworked classic structure – the 24-hour hostage scenario and clashes of class, gender and nationality – make it an interesting watch for film students, it’s not worn as well as Repulsion from the same period in Polanski’s career.
The director brings an outsider’s eye to all that he surveys
Cul-de-Sac doesn’t really engage the viewer – there are long static dialogue scenes where the actors get to chew the minimalist scenery for a little too long. The director brings an outsider’s eye to all that he surveys – that alien beach, the gothic interiors of the castle, and a near-expressionist claustrophobia to the chicken shed where Richard initially hides. However, the relentless paranoia and sheer human nastiness as the film unfurls is wearisome, especially as it lacks a single sympathetic character.
This Criterion release is one for Polanski aficionados – he apparently approved the new digital restoration, but I found the day-for-night sequences uncompromisingly dark and the sound sometimes muddy. This edition includes an enjoyable retrospective documentary made in 2003 with Polanski, his producer and his cinematographer reflecting on their struggles to get the film made, as well as a 1967 interview with the director on his career to date, two trailers and a scholarly essay by David Thompson.
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