Donald Pleasence, Francoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander
(USDVD release date: )
Criterion has released Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac on DVD and Blu-Ray; though the film has been on disc in England and other countries, it’s the U.S. debut in any video format ever. This dark comedy of behavior was shot at Lindisfarne, a 16th Century castle on Holy Island, cut off from the English mainland by tides for many hours a day. Here a husband (Donald Pleasence) and wife (Francoise Dorléac) find their lives invaded by a gangster (Lionel Stander). They’re all interlopers in this cold barrack of aristocratic high culture: a jumped-up bourgeois arriviste who spent all his money to buy it, his foreign tart of a wife, and a boorish American.
This thing is so Polanski. It can be linked with Knife in the Water (sexual tension trio), Repulsion (French women in England—Dorléac happens to be the sister of Repulsion star Catherine Deneuve), The Fearless Vampire Killers (Gothic castle), What (absurdist humor), The Tenant (transvestism as visual shock) and Bitter Moon (couple’s masquerade). Like several of these, the film was co-written with Gérard Brach. And also like several of these, there’s a constant threat of casual violence amid tight, evocative compositions and the constant teeter of the humorous and potentially ghastly.
Extras include a good TV interview with Polanski from 1967 and a new making-of with his participation. They tell stories of Stander’s behavior and state that Pleasence showed up bald for the first time in his career without telling anybody; that was inconsiderate but Polanski admits it worked. The liner notes compare the film inevitably with the mysterious absurdist plays of Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett; Pleasence and Alec McCowen, who plays a supporting gangster, were associated with both on stage. While Polanski still lives, somebody needs to ask him about the impact of the great Polish proto-absurdist Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. His rediscovered plays took Poland by storm in the 1950s, when Polanski was a student, and it sure explains a lot.