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Directors Serge July and Daniel Ablin
Writer Serge July
Image Caroline Champetier, Eric Genillier
Sound Timothée Alazraki, Phil Bax, Michael B. Krikorian
Editing Sophie Rouffio
Length 52 minutes
Format 16/9
Broadcasters ARTE, France5, TCM, TSR


  • Roman POLANSKI, director
  • Claude BERRI, producer
  • Pierre GRUNSTEIN, executive producer
  • Nastassia KINSKI, actress, role of Tess
  • Timothy BURRILL, co-producer
  • Anthony POWELL, head costume designer
  • Leigh LAWSON, actor, role of Alec
  • Philippe SARDE, composer

Portrait of a film: Tess is a young 19th-century English peasant girl, confronted with prejudice and social barriers, religious intolerance and patriarchal machismo. Having learned that they might be related to aristocratic neighbours, her parents send Tess to serve in their mansion. There Tess meets her alleged cousin Alec, who falls in love with her and eventually rapes her. Tess gives birth to a child who dies and she runs away. She meets Angel, the son of a pastor, and marries him. When Tess tells him her story on their wedding night, Angel pushes her away. Rejected by everyone, Tess becomes Alec’s mistress. When Angel finds her and begs for forgiveness, Tess kills Alec. After a brief happiness with Angel, she is arrested and hanged. Inspired by a novel by Thomas Hardy, “Tess” reveals the great talent of Nastassia Kinski who is barely 18 years old at the time. Shot in Normandy, the film is then the most expensive production of the French cinema: nine months and forty locations, a year of editing marked by a conflict between the filmmaker and his producer Claude Berri. A public and critical success, “Tess” won three Césars (best film, best director, and best photography), three Oscars (photography, costumes, art direction) and the Golden Globe for best foreign film.

Portrait of an era: “Tess” is filmed during the period between two oil price shocks (1973 and 1979), at the end of a decade marked by a veritable social transformation in Western countries. In 1978, and after having been legalized in France, abortion is finally made legal in Italy, the fortress of Catholicism. In France, two bills are tabled to punish rape. Environmental protection becomes a major concern after the first major oil spill on the Breton coast and the accident at the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the United States. Land consolidation in the countryside is almost complete. Many of the landscapes that Roman Polanski is filming have almost disappeared. “Tess” is reminiscent of a past that is still present, while France is investing massively in second homes, and the 1970s are the years of a return to nature, to the land, for alternative movements.

Portrait of a filmmaker: Roman Polanski was 43 years old when he directed his tenth feature film, “Tess”, in 1979. A world-renowned filmmaker of Polish origin – he has already directed several of his masterpieces, such as “The Vampire Ball”, “Rosemary’s baby” and “Chinatown” – Polanski has just fled the United States, where he had moved to in the late 1960s. In February 1977, after having had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old model during a pose session, he is arrested for rape and imprisoned for 42 days. On release, he is threatened with further incarceration, although the girl’s family withdrew their complaint. On his return to Paris in February 1978, he and producer Claude Berri set about developing his old project: adapting and directing Thomas Hardy’s novel, a legacy left to him by his wife Sharon Tate, who was murdered in Los Angeles in 1968. “Tess” is a tribute to the late actress.