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NA SAMYN DNIE (DEEP END) (1970)

"Is this you? Is it? IS IT?"

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Starring: John Moulder-Brown, Jane Asher, Karl Michael Vogler, Christopher Sandford, Diana Dors
Screenplay: Jerzy Skolimowski, Jerzy Gruza, Boleslaw Sulik

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Mike (John Moulder-Brown) takes a job as an attendant at a public swimming pool/bath-house complex. His co-worker is Susan (Jane Asher), an attractive young woman some years older than Mike, who takes a teasing interest in him. Mike quickly develops a crush on Susan, and rejects her suggestion that he earn extra money by responding to the advances of some of the bathhouse’s customers. Although confessing to Susan that he is a virgin, Mike also rejects the advances of his former girlfriend. As his fixation on Susan grows, Mike is furious when he discovers that, not only is she engaged, she is also having an affair with a married man (Karl Michael Vogler) who was one of Mike’s teachers at school. Mike begins following Susan out of work hours, spying on her with her male companions. His obsession becoming uncontrollable, he takes action to sabotage her relationships.

There have been many instances of outsiders producing the most accurate portraits of specific societies or times. Deep End, Polish expatriate Skolimowski’s first English-language film, offers a vision of London in the late sixties that is so believably bleak and ugly that you may feel like you need a wash after you’ve watched it - though you probably won't want to have it at a public bath-house. Passing references to actual events - a Government family planning campaign, a particular soccer match - evoke a real sense of time and place that is heightened as the camera pulls us through nightclubs, strip-joints and X-rated movie houses. It is no surprise that the inhabitants of this society are as thoroughly unpleasant as their surroundings. (This feeling is immensely heightened by the concept of "personal hygiene" consisting of one wash a week at a public bath-house. Skolimowski presents this aspect of his characters’ lives without comment, but for modern audiences - at least, Australian audiences - it adds an extra layer of crawly nastiness to the whole film.) Only two subjects seem to interest the people here, sex and soccer, and even then the latter is usually just a lead-in to the former ("You like soccer, then? All the boys like soccer" is the standard female opening line). The characters without exception are obsessed with sex, though it seems to bring them little joy; the brief, rough couplings in the bath-house appear more of a temporary escape than a pleasure. Sexual success is the yardstick of personal success, and by these standards Susan is very successful indeed. She is a truly nasty piece of work, and every inch a product of her environment. Using men for her advantage is so ingrained that she starts on the teenaged Mike without hesitation, and probably without even thinking about the possible consequences - or at least, allowing herself to do so. In a strange touch typical of Skolimowski, Susan spends her spare time sewing stuffed toys. One of the storage rooms of the bath-house is nearly full of her work. Her intentness on keeping her hands busy suggests a deliberate effort to stop herself thinking about her actions and her surroundings. That she thinks at all isolates her from the people around her. The obvious resentment she provokes indicates that her companions have recognised that she is equipped to escape from their mutual hell. This is even true of the sexually inadequate Mike, who finds her behaviour an increasingly personal affront, leading to an almost surreal sequence involving the theft of a cardboard cut-out advertising board of a stripper - who may or may not be Susan. Actually, there’s nothing much wrong with Mike. He’s only fifteen, and truly, you wouldn’t want to touch any of the women on display in this film with a ten-foot pole; but this is a world where sex is everything, and if you’re not good at that, you’re no good for anything. Mike has judged himself, and found himself a failure. He, too, is a product of his environment, and in the terms of the film it is entirely fitting that it is he who brings about Susan’s downfall.

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