Director: Roman Polanski

U.K.| 1966. Black and white. 111 mins.

Polanski described this as ‘a black comedy about three characters condemned to close proximity under isolated conditions—a study in neurosis with the thriller conventions turned upside down.’ A gangster (Lionel Stander) bursts in on a married couple living in a remote Northumberland castle and his intrusion destabilises an already fraught relationship. The husband (Donald Pleasence) is the quintessence of insecurity, whilst his young wife (Françoise Dorleac) is a tease whose taunts at his manhood will precipitate tragedy. Two brilliant set-pieces set up the climax: a single-take sequence on a beach when husband and gangster moodily discuss the menace and mystery of woman; and a comic tour-de-force where an unexpected visit from spying friends drives Pleasence into defiance and then despair at his new life. ‘Every life is different and always strange,’ wrote T. S. Eliot, and something of that strangeness is exhibited here. By all accounts Polanski’s favourite of his films, Cul-de-sac won the Golden Bear at the 1966 Berlin Festival.

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