Cul-de-sac – Roman Polanski (1966)

Cul-de-sac is a 1966 British psychological thriller directed by the Franco-Polish director Roman Polanski. It was Polański’s second film in English, written by himself and Gérard Brach. Produced by Gene Gutowski.

Roman Polanski orchestrates a mental ménage à trois in this slyly absurd tale of paranoia from the director’s golden 1960s period. Donald Pleasence and Françoise Dorléac star as a withdrawn couple whose isolated house is invaded by a rude, burly American gangster on the run, played by Lionel Stander. The three engage in role-playing games of sexual and emotional humiliation. Cul-de-sac is an evocative, claustrophobic, and morbidly funny tale of the modern world in chaos.

“It is my best film. I always loved it. I always believed in it. It is real cinema, done for cinema—like art for art.” That was Roman Polanski’s view of Cul-de-sac in 1970, four years after its release and just following his hugely successful Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and before the similarly acclaimed Chinatown (1974). Would he maintain that verdict today, despite those obvious—and his subsequent—career peaks? I suspect he would. Part of his pride in Cul-de-sac came from the fact that it sprang directly from his imagination, being neither an adaptation nor a response to someone else’s demand. The shoot was a much-troubled one, yet the world he created before the camera, both weirdly real and abstract, appears perfectly achieved. As a movie, it unashamedly flirts with several genres—thriller, horror, comedy—but ultimately belongs to none, other than that of a Polanski film.

Cul-de-sac was awarded the 1966 Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival.

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