1957, black and white, 2 mins
- Director: Roman Polański
- Photography: Henryk Kucharski
- Production Company: Łódź Film School (PWSF)
Half a minute longer than his first completed film Murder (Morderstwo, also 1957), Teethful Smile (also known as Teeth Smile and Toothy Smile) is a more complex piece of work, though it’s based on a similar concept of exploring voyeuristic impulses. Here, though, there’s a voyeur onscreen as well as in the audience: we see a man (well-dressed, seemingly on his way out for the evening) being distracted as he passes a window. He looks through it and sees a young woman, naked to the waist, drying her face. A man’s appearance at the door of the flat forces him to pretend to be doing something else, then, when the coast is clear, he returns to the window, only to see the same man - the woman’s lover/husband? - brushing his teeth and grinning.
In straightforward narrative terms, it would appear to be a neat little sketch about thwarted expectations. Or are they especially thwarted? After all, Polański does in fact deliver on the promise of female nudity (not unknown in 1950s Polish cinema - there’s some in Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski’s Sopot 57, released the same year - but certainly rare enough to be noteworthy), so the voyeur’s central disappointment is that the glimpse was so brief, not that he didn’t manage to see anything at all. The far more fundamental disappointment for him is that the film has also shifted its power relationships - in the first half, the voyeur dominated the woman (through being both clothed and - to her, anyway - invisible), only to be trumped by the man at the end, who is presumably about to avail himself of rather more direct erotic pleasures being denied the voyeur and the film’s spectator alike.
Other peculiarly Polańskian touches pepper the film. When the woman wraps the towel around her face, the effect recalls the disturbing qualities of Magritte’s 1928 painting ‘Les Amants’, as well as accentuating her vulnerability - at one point she appears to look directly at the voyeur, but the towel prevents her from seeing him. The smile of the title could refer to the toothpaste-enhanced one at the end, or equally to the voyeur’s momentary baring of his own teeth in a distinctly predatory fashion before he’s interrupted by the other man at the door. The second voyeuristic interlude also sees the bathroom’s occupant looking straight at at the voyeur - only now the gaze is unbroken, the triumph complete, and the utterly defeated voyeur can do no more than dejectedly turn and leave.
DVD Distribution: Teethful Smile is included in the four-disc box set The Roman Polanski Collection (UK, Anchor Bay, Region 2 PAL) and Roman Polanski: Sept Courts-Métrages (France, Wild Side, Region 2 PAL) and as an extra on Knife in the Water (US, Criterion, Region 1 NTSC). This review is of the Anchor Bay version.
Picture: The print is in very good condition, lacking even the minor blemishes of the earlier Murder. A tiny number of white dust spots can certainly be excused.
Sound: The film is totally silent.
Subtitles: None supplied, none necessary (there is no dialogue, and the only onscreen text consists of the title and rudimentary production credits).