Tess 1979

Tess

Critics Consensus

A reverent adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel, Tess marries painterly cinematography and unhurried pacing to create an epic ode to perseverance.

81%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 26

78%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,331

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Movie Info

In Roman Polanski's take on "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," impressionable young Tess (Nastassja Kinski) is sent by her alcoholic father to visit her rich relatives and apply for a job. She's taken in and immediately seduced by her cousin, Alec (Leigh Lawson), who leaves her pregnant. She keeps it to herself and, after the child dies, begins a relationship with a respectable farmer, Angel (Peter Firth). They marry, but when Angel learns of her speckled past, he's not sure he can live with it.

Cast & Crew

Peter Firth
Angel Clare
Leigh Lawson
Alec d'Urberville
John Collin
John Durbeyfield
David Markham
Reverend Mr. Clare
Rosemary Martin
Mrs. Durbeyfield
Richard Pearson
Vicar of Marlott
Tony Church
Parson Tringham
Gérard Brach
Writer (Screenplay)
Roman Polanski
Writer (Screenplay)
John Brownjohn
Writer (Screenplay)
Pierre Grunstein
Executive Producer
Jean-Pierre Rassam
Associate Producer
Philippe Sarde
Original Music
Ghislain Cloquet
Cinematographer
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News & Interviews for Tess

Critic Reviews for Tess

All Critics (26) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (21) | Rotten (5)

Audience Reviews for Tess

  • Jun 10, 2014
    This could easily have become a repetitive series of depressing events (which it almost does), but Polanski finds interesting themes among the misery and visual beauty in almost every scene (I think this film is tied with "Days of Heaven" for best use of the Golden Hour). Nastassja Kinski's performance has just the right blend of naivety and mystery for this role.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 29, 2014
    A not quite traditional take on Thomas Hardy's book, Polanski nonetheless breathes some fresh air on the material and makes it very intriguing.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 16, 2012
    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 - and even if the film may feel too long, the cinematography and art direction are a marvel to behold.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Aug 08, 2012
    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
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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