The week-long run for Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End (1970) at BAM makes for an appropriate coda to a year in which a traveling retrospective was a summer highlight — as well as an occasion for Ben Sachs's interview. "A phantom film for more than three decades over a rights issue and only now redelivered to screens," writes Michael Atkinson in the Voice, Deep End "comes carting a megaton of lingering fuchsia praise from its release heyday. (Andrew Sarris, obviously having an up week, declared it 'the best of Godard, Truffaut, and Polanski and then some' in the Voice.) Today, Skolimowski's movie, his first after exiling himself from Poland to the UK in the late 60s, is a strangely impetuous study of coming-of-age sexual muddle, full of whimsy and abrupt ideas, and intoxicated from a distance, it seems, by Swinging London's free-love commerce."
The set-up, courtesy of Jaime N Christley in Slant: "Mike (John Moulder-Brown), a shy, mop-topped adolescent, has just taken a job at the local swimming pool, and from this new vantage point begins to reassess his previously comfortable life by observing changes both inside and out, sometimes through peepholes, sometimes bearing down on him like a freight train. He's hardly on the job for one day when a voluptuous, middle-aged patron nearly suffocates him in her bosom, only to toss him aside when he's served his intended purpose. Mike soon becomes infatuated with his mentor/coworker Susan, played by Jane Asher, who's 10 years his senior, and who explains to him that such harassment is simply part of the job, and not to worry about it."
"Susan isn't simply playing mind games," argues Craig Hubert at the Bomblog. "Her allure only exists in the mind of Mike, who as the film progresses will follow her from place to place, peeping through windows, listening in from the other side of doors, and staging scenes to get her attention. Taking Mike out of the equation, her life presents a facade of free love — though quite active sexually, her relationships consist of an engagement to a horny twit and a side-affair with a creepy married man. Skolimowski seems to be positioning both Mike and Susan as existential equals — confused outsiders armed with considerable sex drives, lost in the sea of desire that sweeps around them, but incapable of diving in."
"There's something about this queasy naive-initiation-into-adult-sexuality narrative that still compels unimaginative screenwriters to present it without irony or skepticism," writes Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily. "Deep End's sophisticated woman vs immature boy dynamic is remarkably similar to the dismal recent My Week With Marilyn, where an infatuated young man of no particular note really can't imagine why Marilyn Monroe just won't up and leave Hollywood for him, a situation presented with zero irony. More appropriate homages from other skeptical filmmakers: Deep End is directly quoted is echoed in the recent Submarine, but Wes Anderson also probably saw it before he made Rushmore: the Mike-Susan dynamic is close to Max Fischer's well-meaning but destructive obsession with Miss Cross, and both films feature destructive auto damage…. Creepily, hands-over-eyes funny, Deep End locates comedy both in the pervasive awfulness of every single location and in Mike's total cluelessness."
Steve Macfarlane for the L: "Deep End is simple, but only sometimes errs on the side of simplistic — if Antonioni and late-60s Preminger had teamed up for a satire of British life, perhaps this is how it would've turned out (the ultra-hip soundtrack features Cat Stevens and Can)." Time Out New York's David Fear: "Skolimowski's stalker love story charts the moment when puberty turns perversely predatory; its creepiness emerges from the way the hero's schoolboy crush slowly shifts from hormonal to horrifying."
Update, 12/16: Alt Screen posts a roundup as well as a new essay by Dan Callhan: "In all of the best work of the Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, there is a barely-there surrealism in play that keeps his films excitingly unsteady, as if the goal posts were being moved from scene to scene…. This is a movie that trembles, even bristles, with nerves and character-revealing sly humor, especially in the scenes where Susan quietly taunts the Baths cashier (Erica Beer), and Skolimowski punctuates his film with images that make us feel how our physical environment can manifest our own interior muddles."