Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski / United Kingdom-West Germany, 1971)

Jerzy Skolimowski revisits the young romance of his Innocent Sorcerers screenplay, the callow idealism replaced by pubescent clamminess. The result plays like curdled Baudelaire, an ominous jibe at the moony tidiness of coming-of-face stories (Summer of '42 came out the same year), and fairly unforgettable. Cat Stevens' "But I Might Die Tonight" sets the tone, the gangly protagonist (John Moulder-Brown) is a 15-year-old lad who finds his first job (and achieves adolescence) at a seedy London bathhouse. There's something of Suspiria's ballet mausoleum to the edifice -- walls are decorated with dilapidated tiles and peeling paint, the green of chlorine, doorways and innocence dominates until red is introduced, the boy is readily used as a masturbatory accessory by an amorous gorgon (a show-stopping bit by Diana Dors). Jane Asher is the self-possessed tease Moulder-Brown works with, who lets him fondle her in the dark of a porno theater before turning around and slapping him ("I love her," the young "pervert" declares to the police). Asher leads him on, and starts taking the form of the anxieties churning within him: Squirming with frustration as his dream-girl steps out on a date, he bounces between a hot-dog stand and a strip joint, until finally landing in the makeshift boudoir of a worn prostitute (Louise Martini), one leg in a nylon stocking and another in a plaster cast. A work of subtly disturbing shifts and queasy fluids -- the foamy mess of a rogue fire-extinguisher, the swimming pool into which Moulder-Brown dives with a nude cardboard figure cut in Asher's image, the final mix of water and blood. The climax is staged in a drained pool, angled a la Chabrol: The boy's fantasies collide with reality, a deluge washes them all away. Somehow simultaneously sardonic and sensitive, Skolimowski's brilliantly unsentimental dark comedy suggests Lindsay Anderson and Polanski, or what Rushmore might have been with its cutesies under control. With Karl Michael Vogler, Christopher Sandford, Erica Beer, and Anita Lochner.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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