Dir. Roman Polanski
A partial thread for the season has been as much about the position of a director in making a film. I am someone who follows the auteur theory, that a director creates a film through their desires for what it will be, but along with the fact that 1) some films I've seen have been made with their director clearly asleep on their directorial chair, and 2) that all the members of a film production crew have an effect on the final work, I add a modification of my own. That like a the captain of a ship, they have the final decision, the control, but everything that can affect the ship internally and externally can have a lasting effect of as much. It also means for me, even a greatly compromised or job-for-hire film production can still be connected to an auteur's traits because they represent instead them as people and their interactions with people like producers, adding layers to their creative web usually ignored or dismissed as going against such theories. This is a pertinent question here, for this season, not for a cerebral reason, but for a simply concern as a hobby - what films and their directors are more than ones I find to be good and view as my best, particularly when one always worries about wasting time on something merely average instead of something that's great.
This is skewered further because, when I develop an admiration for a director, in most cases I have a quirk where the least appreciated or obscurer films are the ones I gravitate to, to the point in some cases I find the most acclaimed and well known films for a director's filmography are the least interesting, even though I may see them as great films still. Barely seeing any of Roman Polanski's filmography, I'm in a position here rewatching this film where Repulsion is one of his most well known and acclaimed films, which could lead to a very different attitude to the film after viewing it. It's certainly a film with a strong artistically minded director behind it, but what did I think of the film by itself?* A young woman Carol (Catherine Deneuve) is living in late Sixties London, and it's apparent that something psychologically is wrong with her. There is a literal repulsion, a disgust in her for men that is worsening alongside a complete disconnect and hallucinations, becoming harmful for her state of mind. When her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) and her boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) go on holiday, leaving her along in their shared apartment, Carol's paranoia and fracture is released fully, leading to horrible results.
For the first half of the film, there is an odd sensation of watching a late sixties British film, which is a psychological horror movie, that is very much a British New Wave film like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), a documentary influence and emphasis on characters like such films apparent here too. It's odd only in that the film is mostly known for its most delirious scenes, when the actual tone for the film has a drastic change on the content for two reasons. One, how this feels significant different from other Polanski films I've seen in tone but not in his obsessions, which shows the flexible plasticity of a director throughout their career, the other because Repulsion is not a full blown horror, but a significantly different film between the two genres that has an effect on the material. The emphasis on drama, and a very realistic tone, makes the horror when it reveals itself to be more abrupt and more alien from reality, an added unreality to the mental breakdown that happens to Carol.
From here, the film dives into completely nightmarish territory while still having a foot in its realism. The apparent incongruous meeting of the realistic drama against hands coming out of the wall is vast yet a perfect melding here, ripe with tension as the trauma Carol has becomes more apparent. The sexual nature of the repulsion and most of the hallucinations is obvious, the terrors Carol experiences of a man materialising out of thin air in her bed and raping her like an incubus potentially suggesting this is a trauma of a sexual assault victim if depicted in a tone of a nightmare, if not that then at least a trauma heightened by how men, even the sympathetic potential love interest, leer at her or view her as someone to be protected. It never feels like a crass psychological study but something much more disturbing in how fearful she is of her environments, or cut-off from it, as much seeing it through her mind as from the outside at her. As she disconnects from the outside world, a testament to Deneuve in suggesting so much in her acting through little, the transition to her being completely isolated in the apartment, claustrophobic and decaying with a rotting skinned rabbit and disarrayed furniture, turns the film as far as possible to the abstract. Deneuve's performance, while with a solid cast with her, was absolutely vital to get right, and the porcelain beauty she has in the character, the quietness, the (frankly) virginal side to her against a clear, explicit sexuality creates a character that is a completely three dimensional female protagonist anyone can put themselves into. More so as the trauma she feels becomes so obviously horror based and actual death is involved. The drama is kept of as much importance to add to it, still sewn into the horror, the down-to-earth tone adding to the heightened, unsettling content. In how quiet and casual the film is, only for moments to break the reality, and how reality goes against the unreality completely. A blatant, startling crack in the wall that appears in front of Carol, abruptly taking place, may be the best scene in the film for me at this point, a mere jump scare compared to other moments, a minor second of film, because of how this juxtaposition suddenly comes to be and how the film returns back to normalcy, adding to the skewered dread of what is happening to the protagonist. The film succeeds in creating a logic, real character profile but willing to go and create images that, in a bad tone, would be comical but here are disturbing.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium
The nature of the horror against its drama, with consideration, adds to a greater effect on the material, which by itself is already unsettling and unconventional in use and effect. By the end, it is subjective what is real for Carol and not baring a few things, the worst things to have taken place for her, adding to the darkness of the film. She becomes more sympathetic for it, by the end, as everything we see is through the perception of her being confused and disturbed by everything around her. From mysterious, threatening phone calls to a meeting by the landlord, the film escalates in its tone, mixing the realistic and the completely fantastical with full balanced between the two.
A Cinema of the Abstract film?
Repulsion does feel like it was created with immense consideration from Polanski, the question that is next being how the other films I'll see of his, for the first time, will match against this one. If I become a fan of the films of Polanski's will Repulsion be one I hold up as one of the best? Right now, I find it to have been a great viewing experience, able to appreciate it more than I ever did before. Certainly a film for this blog, one which is far more appropriate for it than I originally thought, about to give it a Low rating until I actually stepped back and considered how the subtlety masked how explicitly dark and unsettled the film really is. It's a film, in hindsight, that is now crawling under my skin, not through the viewing, but thinking of everything that transpires within it.
*(In this case, I do have to mention the obvious controversy with Roman Polanski, because of the mid seventies rape charge, which was at the back of my mind even if it has nothing to do with the film watching it and purposely pushing the thought back at one point, not connected to anything on screen, but the unfortunate fact that it'll come to mind just thinking of Polanski himself. Aside from this, I can separate the man from his work, though he liked to bring in his own life into the tone of his work which will bring up some serious questions about some of his films when I get to them. He is an immensely complicated individual in his history, not to trivialise the issue in question, but we also forget how many controversial and sordid aspects of artists we tend to hide under the metaphorical carpet, not realising the human beings have sides to them which are immensely difficult to think about even if they've done good things not just in art.)