Written by: Michael Den Boer on January 25th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, December 7th, 1972
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Gérard Brach, Roman Polanski
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Sydne Rome, Romolo Valli, Roman Polanski
DVD released: 2002
Approximate running time: 110 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian and Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: 20th Century Fox
Region Coding: Region 2 Pal
Retail Price: $25.95
Synopsis: A tourist named Nancy (Sydne Rome) is attacked by three men, who she has just hitched a ride from them. She escapes from her attackers finding refuge at a Mediterranean villa where everything and everyone is not what is appears to be. Shortly after Nancy’s arrival she forges a relationship with a retired pimp Alex (Marcello Mastroianni) who seduces and dominates her. Nancy soon discovers that the villa is filled with eccentric guests whose libidos are in overdrive. Will Nancy succumb to the other’s sexual desires or will she find the key that unlocks her door too freedom?
What? was co-written and directed by Roman Polanski whose most notable films include, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown. Key collaborators on What? include, composer Claudio Gizzi (Flesh for Frankenstein, Blood for Dracula), cinematographers Marcello Gatti (Black Belly of the Tarantula, Massacre in Rome) and Giuseppe Ruzzolini (Duck, You Sucker, Short Night of Glass Dolls) and screenwriter Gérard Brach (Identification of a Woman, The Phantom of the Opera).
Content wise, this film is filled with sexual references and situations. And the end result is best described as an eroticized adaption of Alice from Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece Alice in Wonderland. With that being said, this is not your run of the mill soft core romp, since the majority of the sexuality onscreen is limited to nudity.
This film features a nonlinear narrative is told from the point of view of a young woman Nancy. Also to further compound this film’s disjointed narrative scenes are repeated more than once with slight variations and by the second time through this enhances to Nancy’s disorientation. Another strength of this film are its rock solid visuals.
Performance wise the entire cast are all very good in their respective roles. With the strongest moments in the film are the moments the involve interaction between Sydne Rome and Marcello Mastroianni characters. This film’s standout performance coming from Sydne Rome in the role of Nancy, this film’s protagonist. She beings a sweetness and naivety to her performance which makes the plight of her character all the more convincing. Another performance of note includes, Marcello Mastroianni (Casanova ’70, La Grande Bouffe) in the role of a retired pimp Alex who serves as Nancy’s guide throughout the story. He delivers a pitch perfect performance as he totally immerses himself into the role. Another strength of his performance is how he exploits his character’s phobia’s. Ultimately What? is an inventive variation on the Alice in Wonderland theme that is sure to challenge most viewers with its complex subtext.
Roman’s Polanski’s What?, is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There are no problems with compression and grain is kept to a minimum. The healthy flesh tones blend flawlessly with the films luminous color palette. The black levels are stable which is especially noticeable by the amount of detail present during the night time scenes. There is some minor print damage in the form of specs of dirt. Overall this is a solid transfer from Fox.
This DVD comes with two audio options Italian and English both of these are presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 (Even though the box states that the English is in a Dolby Digital mono my DVD player read the track as Dolby Digital 5.1). Both tracks are in good shape as the dialog is always easy to hear. The Italian language track does sound slightly more robust then the English language track. There are forced Italian subtitles that play during the English Language track. These subtitles can be disabled by selecting the Italian Language track via the language menu and once the movie has started use your controller to switch over to the English Language track.
Extras include biographies & filmographies for Roman Polanski, Marcello Mastroianni and Sydne Rome all the text for these extras in Italian only. This DVD’s main extra is a twenty one minute interview with Sydne Rome which sadly all of the extras on this release are in Italian only. Rounding out the extras is the films original Italian theatrical trailer which features music instead of dialog from the movie. Overall What? gets a strong audio / video presentation.