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Tess (1979)



Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 5
Fresh: 4 | Rotten: 1

No consensus yet.



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Average Rating: 3.6/5
User Ratings: 6,045

My Rating

Movie Info

In Roman Polanski's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Nastassja Kinski plays Tess, a poor British peasant girl sent to live with her distant and wealthy relatives, the D'Urbervilles. Though Tess' father had hoped that the girl would be permitted a portion of the D'Urberville riches, he is in for a major disappointment: Tess' new housemates are not D'Urbervilles at all, but a social-climbing family that has bought the name. Tess won three Oscars, including a "Best



Sep 28, 2004

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All Critics (21) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (17) | Rotten (3) | DVD (8)

Tess is a sensitive, intelligent screen treatment of a literary masterwork.

February 19, 2010 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Tess tells one rather more about its director's much publicised preoccupations than about Hardy's themes.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This is a wonderful film.

October 23, 2004 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Without Mr. Polanski's name in the credits, this lush and scenic Tess could even be mistaken for the work of David Lean.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

een in the context of Roman Polanski's career it becomes something rich and strange, shaded into terror by the naturalistic absurdism that is the basis of Polanski's style.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Roman Polanski is one of those men who, despite his icky treatment of women in real life, manages to create strong and compelling female characters for the screen.

April 18, 2014 Full Review Source: Creative Loafing
Creative Loafing

This is Kinski's show and she flat out steals it.

March 6, 2014 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

The film, like its source, is filled with pessimistic fatalism, but it spares no pity for the instruments of fate [...] What, if anything, this meant to Polanski remains unknowable.

February 25, 2014 Full Review Source: The Dissolve
The Dissolve


February 6, 2014 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Insufferably long, but very good in parts.

February 19, 2010 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

Visually, Tess is a masterpiece, capturing in amazing detail the scenery and atmosphere of the England of yore. The film's chief drawback, however, is its lack of vitality.

February 19, 2010 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Though not one of Polanski's best features, this adaptation of Thomas Hardy's challenging novel, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, is intelligent if flawed, but it's nice to look at due to excellent production values, particularly cinematography.

January 8, 2007 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

Polanski is entitled to one monstrously overlong period piece, and in Tess he acquits himself satisfactorily, though the film isn't nearly the equal of its counterparts

October 3, 2004 Full Review Source:

Tess conveys the bleak determinism that makes this young woman's life so anguished.

January 29, 2004 Full Review Source: Spirituality and Practice
Spirituality and Practice

Gorgeous, sumptuous, and quietly intense masterpiece.

October 15, 2003
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Not a high point in Polanski's career but not without its merits.

May 24, 2003 Full Review Source: Film4

Audience Reviews for Tess

Beautiful to look at, not just the scenery but the art direction as well but overlong and somewhat ponderous. Director Polanski's silent tribute to his late wife Sharon Tate at the end of the opening credits with a simple "To Sharon" after his credit is quite moving. She had left the Hardy novel with a note that she thought he would make a fine film of it when she headed back to the states just before her death.
April 12, 2013
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

A resonant and visually stunning period piece about a beautiful but unfortunate young woman born in an ungrateful time and divided between two men who are bound to abuse her. Even if the film may feel too long, the cinematography and art direction are a marvel to behold.
October 17, 2012

Super Reviewer

The mean and downward day by day of a gorgeous peasant girl. beautifully adapted to the screen by Roman Polanski. A film dedicated to his wife Sharon Tate.
May 27, 2007

Super Reviewer

Everyone talks about that certain little incident with a 13-year-old Samantha Geimer back in '77, but really, all throughout the '70s, if only at that time, Roman Polanski was fooling around with the much younger ladies, because he was dating Nastassja Kinski back when she wasn't but somewhere between 15 and 17. Well, for all we know, it was Kinski who planted that kind of pedophile mentality in Polanski, and the only reason why Polanski started dating Kinski was because Sharon Tate planted in Polanski the mentality of approaching his lead actresses on-set. Yes, I know that Polanski and Kinski hooked up a whole three years before this film's release, so it doesn't seem too likely that they met on the set, but hey, the final cut of the film runs about three years, so I'd imagine principal photography gave Polanski and Kinski more than enough time to hook up a couple of years before the film's relase. Wait a second, the assault on Samantha happened in '77, and Polanski and Kinski didn't call off their three-year-long relationship until after they wrapped this film in '79, so Polanski cheated on a budding Nastassja Kinski with a 13-year-old? If he didn't flee the country, he probably could have pled insanity. Wow, I was bringing up all of Polanski's demons there for a minutes, but hey, he's got to be somewhere in his 120s (As long as his career is, I'm surprised he isn't) and I'm over here in America, so what's he going to do? Hey, say what you will about Roman Polanski, because lord knows I will and have, but he's made some pretty good films, as well they should be, considering their length, because if there's anything that Polanski loves more than underaged girls, then it's overlong films, and this film is most certainly no exception, for although it is a decent effort, it's held back to the ends of the earth by padding that practically stretches to the ends of the earth.

It's pretty hard to get tired of Nastassja Kinski's beautiful face, but patience starts to run thin here and there throughout this film's sprawling runtime, for although the film's subject matter does have enough depth to it to warrant a reasonably lengthy length, at three hours, or in the case of abridged cuts, at the shortest, still close to three hours, this film outstays its welcome, getting rather repetitious in some spots, and just plain bloated in others, and it's made all the worse by something else that we've come to expect from a Roman Polanski film. Now, in all honesty, the film has quite a few extended points where it's not especially slow, but boy, when slowness sets in, it doesn't slow down, growing more and prevalent as the film progresses, until it finally plagues just about most of the final product and leaving it to drag its feet until it hits moments in which it dries up a bit too much and, after a while, all-out dulls out, becoming a smidge, if not quite a bit, or even tremendously boring. The film is overlong and slow, as you would expect a Roman Polanski film to be, and yet, its subject matter warrants lengthiness - even if this is too much - and its slowness, while intense and prevalent, could have been worse (Or lord, thank goodness its not worse). No, ladies and gentlemen, what might drag this film down the most is simply its not biting nearly deep enough, for although this film has its moments, with Polanski in the directing chair, plenty of meditating time in the length and, of course, much strength in the story, it's hard to not expect this film to hit much harder than it ultimately does, which really isn't that hard at all. There's restraint in the oomph and limpness in the atmosphere, with minimal scope and limited consistent intrigue throughout this film which follows the runtime of the dramatic epic that it probably should have been, and while that definately helps this film in avoiding the tonal tropes of its rather conventional story, I can't help but feel as though this film would have been better if it did celebrate its conventions, as they are the conventions of worthy films. Now, restrained bite in storytelling doesn't always sound like an especially damaging misstep, but we're talking about a restraint in bite throughout a sprawlingly lengthy film which boasts a story that deserves better, and that can go a long way, and with a padding and slowness making it all the worse, such a misstep can ruin a film. Well, sure enough, this misstep of limited bite, made worse by ever-intensifying excessive lengthiness and slowness, ruins the film, but hardly comes close to destroying it, for although the film falls short of genuinely good, and quite a bit short of its potential, it hits more than misses, particularly when it comes to artistry.

That poor sucker Geoffrey Unsworth croaked three weeks into shooting (His odyssey's well beyond space now), but before he went, he provided cinematography that was nothing short of striking, emphasizing lighting and color with a graceful radiance that Ghislain Cloquet, whenever he showed up, replicated well enough for you to not notice Unsworth's absence, as the film keeps consistently handsome through and through, or at least until it finds certain golden moments in which it stuns. This film's fine visual style breathes life into its tones, themes and artistry, while what springs the setting to life are production designs that both stand out and stand restrained, though the latter might just be because this film's scope is so minimalist, even with its having the [b]runtime of an epic[/b] (A three-hour non-epic, no wonder this film gets dull). Still, whether it be because of the limited scope or Roman Polanski's directorial intentions, the point is that this film's production values are subtle, and it's that subtlety that makes them all the more effective, as they don't so much bear down on the substance for the sake of style, but instead play into the substance and plant you firmly in this world, which isn't to say that there aren't more than a few production designs that really do stand out and catch your eye. Actually, now that I think about it, while the subtlety in the production values are no less impressive, I think I'm going to have to say that the production designs go restrained simply because of limited scope, as Polanski doesn't put his all into this film when it comes to directing, and I would expect better. Still, when Polanski does hit, he... doesn't really hit that hard, but still just hard enough to give this film high points, and plenty of them, enough so that it's hard to completely fall out of the film, and it certainly helps that Polanski provides consistent intrigue that is, well, faint, but just palpable enough to get you by. This can be said about the performers, only their being held back isn't exactly by their own doing, as just about every single performer in this film has just about nothing to do, and that's pretty much what does in the film and renders it underwhelming, though quite honestly by a hair, as the performers still hold their own just enough to sustain your attention and even a degree of your investment, with our titular lead doing the relative most to sustain your attention, though not entirely because of her acting. Our exceedingly beautiful leading lady Nastassja Kinski is definately a sight to see, though ever so surprisingly not much more than that, for even she has scarce to work with, yet compensates by, well, being just so blasted physically attractive, but also nailing both an Irish accent (I don't know why that's worth mentioning; she's not American, so of course she changes her accent extremely well) and a sense of defining innocence within the Tess Durbeyfield character, or at least until material arises through the tainting of Durbeyfield's innocence, at which point, Kinski subtly but surely dons an ever-intensifying presence of unease, though not at the expense of aspects within this presence that keep you very much reminded that this is still Durbeyfield, so much so that, after a while, you also forget that it's Kinski, as she slips into the character, perhaps not phenomenally, but still compellingly enough to help in keeping this film going, for although the final is so faulty, with limited oomph and squandered potential, it is made watchable by the handful of things that are done right, and quite right indeed.

Bottom line, the film is, as expected, overlong and slow, growing more intensely so in its progression, yet to my surprise, the film is also profoundly lacking in scope, extensiveness and overall bite, and it's that lack of oomph that drains the worthy story, pronounces the other missteps and renders the final product underwhelming, though certainly not at all terribly mediocre, as the consistently catches you eye with its handsome cinematography and fine production designs, as well as your investment, to a certain degree, with the occasional inspired moment within Roman Polanski's direction, as well as with a talented cast of terribly restrained, yet generally engaging performers, with stunning leading lady Nastassja Kinski being among the most restrained, yet at the some time, among the most relatively impressive, for although she has close-to nothing to do, she keeps consistent with a presence that stays true to the Tess Durbeyfield character, yet still finds itself layered just enough for Kinski to bond with her role and help in making "Tess" a graceful and watchable dramatic piece, even if it comes out not nearly as impressive as it could have been and should have been.

2.5/5 - Fair
August 8, 2012
Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer

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