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cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Sydne Rome, Hugh Griffith

director: Roman Polanski

108 minutes (18) 1972
widescreen ratio 2.40:1
Severin DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Nancy (Sydne Rome), an American travelling in Italy, hitches a ride and narrowly escapes rape as a result. Running from her assailants, she finds herself in a strange villa...

Roman Polanski made Che? (usually known as What? in English, though the credits of this DVD version have the Italian title) in the middle of his decade-long stretch between Rosemary's Baby and Tess. It immediately preceded Chinatown. Hired by an Italian director to make a sex comedy - one which features its star without many, or any, clothes on for much of the film - the result is certainly high-toned. Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert feature on the soundtrack, artworks (some of them originals) adorn the interior of the villa, and the 'scope camerawork of Marcello Gatti and Giuseppe Ruzzolini adds considerable gloss. The storyline rings the changes on Lewis Carroll, with Nancy as a modern-day Alice in a Mediterranean wonderland, and much of the 'plot' consists of her bizarre encounters with many of the other residents.

But there's a reason why Che? has become Polanski's forgotten film. Although many of his films feature shafts of blackly comic wit, every time he sets out to make an out-and-out comedy the results are disastrous. Che? rivals Pirates as the biggest flop of its director's career. The film is too heavy-handed to be funny, and beginning a comedy with an attempted gang-rape sets the wrong tone from the start. Tedium soon sets in and an hour and three quarters of this will really grind your patience to dust. As for the title, that's explained at the end in a postmodern touch that will probably cause more groans than smiles, revealing the film to be nothing but an elaborate shaggy-dog story. Polanski has made enough great films for this to be worth a look - and praise to Severin for making it available in such a good edition. But don't say you weren't warned.

Severin's all-regions release is in the original 2.40:1 ratio and anamorphically enhanced, with a mono soundtrack. DVD extras: the trailer, plus interviews with Sydne Rome (16 minutes), composer Claudio Gizzi (22 minutes) and co-cinematographer Marcello Gatti (16 minutes). The latter two speak in Italian, subtitled into English. There are no subtitles available for the main feature.

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