DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Repulsion

Sunday 30 August 2009


Repulsion (1965) dir. Roman Polanski
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux


'Repulsion' not only represents a unique place in the filmography of Roman Polanski as his second feature and first in English, but in 1965 it’s plays as an antidote the prevailing attitude of exuberant sexual freedom, a horror film of sorts for the swinging 60's.

Carole (Catherine Deneuve) is a French beautician working in a salon and living with her sister Helene. Something's eating her, and we’re not quite sure. Lately she’s been absent minded at work, perpetually distracted by mundane shapes and patterns around her. She seems uncomfortable outside, preferring the shelter of her cramped London flat. When her sister and her boyfriend leave for a weekend vacation, Carole is left alone at home. A compendium of deep psychological fears slowly break her down.

Chief among them is a local bloke who despite Carole’s rejections continually pines after her. In fact, men of all sorts starting appearing in her nightmares and even waking dreams. Polanski’s perverse imagery of cracking walls and a decaying cooked rabbit become literal metaphors of her broken down psyche, eventually culminating in gruesome violence and murder.

Polanski is teamed up with his frequent writing partner Gerard Brach for the first time, but they consciously keep the story light and almost frustratingly coy with Carole’s backstory and explaination of her condition. While there’s some remarkable and influential filmmaking on display, we tend to concentrate on the second half of the picture, disregarding the lengthy and for lack of a better word, boring, 45mins it takes to get the good stuff. We’re constantly waiting for something to happen, Carole to break, to snap, to get hit on the head or something.

The wait eventually does pay off. “Repulsion” and “Psycho” arguably invented some of the fundamentals of horror cinema today. Polanski's transitions in and out of Carole’s dreams have been standard scare tactics every since, and one in shot in particular provides the film’s biggest jump. At one point Carole, alone in the apartment and scared to death moves a mirror, revealing a man in the background. It’s an overused technique today, but when used in “Repulsion” must have sent audiences through the roof.

“Repulsion” is all style, Polanksi’s cinematic exercise of the muscles. His command of the camera for sophomore 32 year old is masterful. It’s the first of his apartment films (inc “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Tenant”), showcasing a remarkable ability to shoot in tight spaces. His precise camera movements through corridors, door frames, around furniture in the room using wideangle lenses while still maintaining the ability to edit for pace would become his trademark.

What is the meaning of “Repulsion”? Though we don’t understand what in Carole’s life triggered this frenzy of psychological disturbance. I’d wager the film was about Carole’s fear of men, and as evidenced by the final frame, perhaps even some kind of childhood abuse. Having been made at a time when the game of male-female courtship was more open to reveal the sick sexual appetites of men, Carole finds herself constantly bombarded and attacked with the unabated male libido. It’s no coincidence the only scenes which don’t involve Carole are with Michael and his sexist pals discussing their female conquests. At one point Michael's friend even advises not to go after 'the virgin', because 'they're not worth it.' Arguably there’s a lesbian subtext to Carole’s behaviour as well. The only moment we see her smiling is a joyous laughter she shares with her female colleague, and played very close together by Polanski.

Minor frustrations aside "Repulsion" is a magnificent piece of celluloid. On Blu-Ray, its sharp, contrasty black and white imagery pierces through the high-definition screen like Carole's straight razor..

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Great review, Alan. I saw this for the first time quite recently & found it mesmerizing. Also, the straight razor scene was one of the most jarring on-screen murders I can recall! Atmospheric & haunting... a great film.