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Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)

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Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)

(Compton Films, 1965)

It's not every day that a film that has been sitting so obviously in my mind's eye for procurement, screaming out for viewing for so long, turns out to be this good after finally relenting, nor is it every day that a film tricks me as completely as Repulsion by Roman Polanski.

On my watch list for a good number of years, there were good reasons for my wanting to see Repulsion: there was something consistent about the reviews from forums and reviews--posts from people I pay attention to and from those I do not really listen much to--that told me, "This film is an excursion into that bizarro nameless territory that you love so much dude... it's probably the real thing. Watch it. You hear me? Watch it."

Even the venerable Criterion Collection's releasing the film on DVD and BluRay didn't spur me into action until finally, some undefinable interior clock went off and it turned out to be my time to grab the film for myself. Even after doing so, it sat for a week or two before I threw it on.

Incredibly, for that week or two I probably watched Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, with Bela Lugosi doing his atrocious humping turn as the Embarrassing Monster, for the seven thousandth time. But still, a confirmed masterpiece sat, unsent-for, waiting for the alarm to go off in my head.

Well finally, this past weekend, the alarm bells battered and banged and the time was nigh to see what all the oozing and cooing was about. Turned out the answer was "An awful goddam lot."

*          *          *

I'm not the most giant-sized Polanski expert. I like Chinatown quite a bit--I love the deadpan way it delivers its insanely wacko universe of complicated simplicity with easy bleak style. Like it a lot, but the film has planted no giant sized magnet in me whereby I make an annual pilgrimage to the film and make sure I keep it fresh in my head. It's been at least ten years since I've seen the thing... probably have seen it three or four times all together.

Rosemary's Baby is on the other hand another box of graham crackers altogether. Adore the film. Love it. Need it in the brain llike the body requires vitamins and minerals; love it as a story to get lost in, to put on and fall asleep to in the dark so it mucks up my dreams with a yellow green aura of horror tinkering with my waking sanity; admire it as a specimen of cinema .  .  .  nod of the head with this camera placement, smile of admiration with this edit, that script line, and on and on.

Created by Polanski in 1965 after the success of Knife In The Water, Repulsion was the result of a Polanski script developed with co-writers, based on his personal experience of meeting a beautiful woman, stunningly attractive .  .  .  yet at the same time agonizingly shy. So shy as to be hobbled, addled with neuroses, perhaps psychotic. To the degree that there was a tangible sense of danger lurking beneath the surface of such physical beauty waiting to be uncovered.

This is a re-imagining of the tale of Beauty & The Beast .  .  .  except in this case both are wrapped up in the trunk of a single human organism: one physically beautiful woman psychologically damaged beyond repair by a damaged beast haunting the reverbing halls of her head.

I am now announcing: there will be spoilers below this line. Eat these words with your eyes only at your own peril, if you have not yet watched this film.

 

Repulsion is, in terms of dialog and physical action, in terms of movement, in terms of suspense, a very quiet film. Shot in stark black and white--gorgeous inky blacks, luminous whites and lovely silver tonalities in between (this would have been a wonderful film to watch, were it still in use at the time, on a first generation nitrate, but who wants to sit in the same room as a projector fire? Me! this is all silliness as nitrate was no longer used at its making in 65)--Repulsion runs on the sensibilities that spin off of the aesthetics of the silent era. 

This is a film that talks to that side of the brain that tosses words into the rubbish heap; it speaks directly to a part of your brain that is soundlessly cultivating a file of impressions on the persona of Catherine Deveuve's lead character Carol, cumulatively watching unusual, soundless behaviors pile up as she writhes quietly through the film. We are never told what is "wrong" with Carol; we are never informed what "happened" to Carol, if anything indeed "happened" to her at all to make her the way she is. We understand and make judgments without words, without labels as we connect her with similar strange souls we've all encountered in our lives. This is the wordless intuition of human existence, which needs no audio track, no title cards, no mickey-mousing score for emphasis. The mind sees, and it understands.

A light sketch in of plot: we open the film with Carol, a manicurist in London attending to a client in a beauty spa/clinique treatment room. Sketching his mise en scene through quiet portaiture and editing rhythms to establish an impressionist sensibility, allowing the aura of character to set the tempo, we are plunked down into the strange intimacy of aging wealthy biddies, chasing after the fleeing angel of youthful beauty. Carol's charge rustles ever so slightly on her padded spa table, the first sign of movement:

"Have you fallen asleep," she asks annoyed, as Carol has stopped servicing her client's fingernails for too long a stretch and gone into a haze.

Carol's interaction with her interlocutors in the film is basically a series of episodes wherein she gives off some specimen of oddball, quiet, "off" behavior wherein they inevitably have to ask--"Are you okay?" The only souls who don't seem to pay much attention to the introverted oddity of Carol is the happyhumping couple of Carol's sister Helen and her lover Michael--played by the super effective duo of Yvonne Furneaux and Ian Hendry.

Carol lives her life in paranoid pantomime, moving soundlessly like a skittish ghost through her workaday business until the departure of her sister and her married boyfriend go to Italy on holiday, leaving Carol alone in her shabby old mansion flat.

This is where the film begins in earnest and is without question where Polanski pulls of his miraculous tour de force of utterly bizarre filmmaking, an art of a stripe that is completely beyond classification: it is not arthouse, it is not horror, it is not suspense, it is not a silent film, but it is hardly a sound film.

It's rather simply Repulsion-- I can't think of anything else to say. With her sister gone--her one toehold, her tiny anchor into the world of responsibility, of paying attention to time and its passage, of routines fulfilled, laws respected, of the world of paranoid fantasy inadvertantly dissolved by the strong sisterly example and presence of Helen--Carole flumps sideways into the jaws of her own mind and the worst that it has to offer itself.

One of the main drivers of Carol's disintegration is her rampant alienation from/hatred of men. Carole is like a foot stamping pubescent girl who rejects out of hand anything that she doesn't understand and which disrupts her comfort zone: thus sexual arousal is a cause for extreme confusion and disturbance, and results in a rage that is focused with laser accuracy on the male that caused it. If a bug bites you, squash the bug. Kill it, stomp it, twist and grind your heel in it until it is neutralized, liquefied goo, never to threaten again.

There is a telling moment in the bathroom of her flat where Carol picks up Michael's dirty bathroom linen.  .  .  her hormonal curiosity overwhelms her and she smashes the sweaty, pheromone-drenched fabric to her face to breathe in the male essence completely, unable to help herself. The sexual self momentarily bursting up through the burbling cauldron of anxiety to have a briefest flash in the world.

As her skittish identity snaps back into the equation and the instinct that triggered the act withers away, Carol is all conscious mind again and erupts in nausea, flinging the offending article away and vomiting in a wastebasket.

This movie kept me unsure until the very end--as Carol endures a complete breakdown, losing her fragile grasp on sanity more and more with each moment that goes by, she begins to hallucinate: cracks erupt in the walls of her flat as her brain starts throwing sparks and sputtering in the direction of complete disintegration. The apartment walls, the rooms, these stretch and grow impossibly. Space and time stretch like silly putty. Rapists appear behind her in the mirror, snap on like flicked lamps behind her on the bed to hump her from behind; multiple pairs of hands reach impossibly out from within the hallway walls to grope and fondle Carol with unbridled masculine lust as she makes her way through the house. Men appear at the door for a visit--already driven to madness by the phantasms materializing in and out of her eyesight, Carol knows she must neutralize these new threats at the first opportunity or more rape, more abuse, more hideous unwelcome maleness shoved into her mind and her body will be the result.

*           *           *

The problem with all of this is that we have been so strictly been following Carol around like faithful dogs in the narrative, warming to nobody else but her, that we have essentially been seeing the world through her eyes. We know beyond doubt that many of the male phantoms that come to haunt her in her flat are not real. As the house is still standing at the close of the film, we're feeling pretty certain that the cracks and the collapses we've been seeing erupt through her warped eyeballs were not real: certainly the hands gumbubbling out through the walls to grope her were not real.  .  . without question the impossible stretching of her living room was not either.

So was the violence that took place within the apartment real too? Were these hallucinations as well?

The answer surprised me--this is a movie neither conventional or predictable.

An extremely unique specimen, Repulsion is a perfect example of the that kind of cinema produced by important filmmakers in all the fire and defiant creative energy of their youth. Anxious to express the newness of their vision and make it more interesting still, they take a large number of chances in an attempt to break through this or that barrier of audience, artistic recognition, or production/studio prestige. The result is pure originality with a pleasing hint of rough edges out on the circumference. I could fill pages with examples of this kind of film throughout history and across the globe--easily, because these are some of my favorites of all time. . . over the hump of learning the ropes, but not a wealthy man living the life of an icon yet. Ambitious, inventive, rare of talent.

Polanski was in a veritable fever of inspiration at this period of his career, a fever than would wane bit by bit, but slowly enough that he would remain a rather vital and inspiring filmmaker for a good number of years to come. He talks about wanting to break through, about wanting to make an impression, to make that break into the English speaking audience, and make it to the big time terrain of his aspirations and live out his destiny.

Via this extremely inspiring example, working with a low budget, seedy, soft core porn production company and distributor, he positively did just that. If you've not seen the film, run don't walk to grab the CC DVD or BD. Sublime stuff.

P. Clive/HSchreck

3/18/2015*** 

 

     

 


Published by , 18.03.2015 at 22:00
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Owen Stone
Owen Stone 19 March 15 17:08 This guys is still on the lamb but still getting awards and accolades. I don't know what's going on but people get put under the prison for a lot less than what he's done. Text hided expand
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