Monday, October 22, 2012


Directed by Roman Polanski, Repulsion is the story of a Belgian woman who lives in London with her sister as she starts to inhabit strange behaviors in her apartment as she’s left alone. Written by Polanski and Gerard Brach with adaptation and additional dialogue by David Branch, the film explores the world of a woman’s fragility in her surroundings as it’s the first film of a trilogy set in apartments. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, Yvonne Furneaux, John Fraser, and Patrick Wymark. Repulsion is a terrifying yet engrossing film from Roman Polanski.

The film is essentially the story of this Belgian manicurist named Carol (Catherine Deneuve) who lives in London with her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) who spends a lot of her time with her boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) whom Carol doesn’t like. When Helen goes away to Italy with Michael, Carol is left all alone in her apartment as she starts to unravel by he surroundings as she’s being pursued by a young man named Colin (John Fraser) while seeing things that could real or fiction. By the course of the film, many questions become asked about Carol’s mental state as she’s haunted by all sorts of things including people who could be real or fiction.

The film’s screenplay by Roman Polanski and Gerard Brach isn’t very plot-driven though it does have a traditional structure to play out Carol’s deteriorating state of mind. The first act is about Carol’s life where she is this very shy, quiet manicurist who is kind but not willing to interact with people as she’s pursued by Colin who is interested in her. Yet, she remains unsure as she spends a lot of her time with her older sister who definitely has a more fulfilling life with Michael as Carol has to endure hearing her sister having sex at night. Once her sister leaves in the second act, the film definitely becomes less plot-driven as Carol starts to behave in a very strange way as she often stares around her surroundings as she sees cracks in the apartment, leave the place a mess while a rabbit that was supposed to be cooked is left out of the refrigerator for the flies to soak into.

Things become much darker in the third act where Carol’s sexually-repressive behavior and her state of mind becomes far more questionable where reality and fantasy collide. Even as she would do things that become far more menacing in her behavior as if she has no control of what she’s doing or be totally unaware of her activities. Polanski and Brach create a story that is an intriguing piece of character study as they follow this very fragile woman who definitely has demons around her as it features a very ambiguous ending which raises a lot of questions about what might’ve happened to her.

Polanski’s direction is very entrancing in the way he captures the life of this young woman just as she’s starting to unravel. Through these eerie close-ups, hypnotic medium shots, and all sorts of stylish compositions. Polanski creates this very intimate yet evocative portrait of a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown as he slowly takes his time to watch this woman unravel. Polanski also creates shots as it’s shot on location in Kensington where he follows Carol around the city as she is always looking at her surroundings taking the same route on her way home. In one moment, he takes a shot of a crack on pavement floor as she just notices where Polanski places her feet around this crack and later has her staring at it much to the bemusement of Colin. It is a key moment that plays to her sense of unraveling as she starts to talk less and become more frightened by her surroundings.

Polanski’s direction also plays up the film’s suspense and horror without delving into conventions as he is aware that this is more based on psychological elements. Notably as he continually creates these stylish compositions while making sure certain things like Michael’s razor and toothbrush are in Carol’s bathroom glass just to annoy her as they would later play a key part to her state of mind. Even the clothes that Carol wears represents this repressed state as she barely reveals any kind of sex appeal except one moment when she wakes up naked or another moment as she puts on red lipstick. It plays to Carol’s deterioration from herself as she becomes more out of step with the real world as Polanski would play up that sense of terror in the apartment she lives in. Overall, Polanski creates a film that is intriguing but also harrowing in its exploration of a woman’s descent into madness.

Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from some very straightforward shots in the film‘s locations to more stylish yet radiant shots inside the apartment at night including an amazing lighting set-up that establishes Carol‘s warped view of the world. Editor Alastair McIntyre does some excellent work with editing to play up the film‘s suspense with rhythmic cuts along with fade-outs to play out its structure as it becomes more chaotic as the film progresses. Art director Seamus Flannery does fantastic work with the look of the apartment as it becomes more disarrayed in its look and surroundings along with cracks and strange things at a wall that Carol touches.

The sound work of Leslie Hammond is marvelous for the atmosphere it creates from the intimacy of the apartment with low-key sounds of flies being heard to the sound of the church bell near the apartment that always bring out a sense of terror that is to occur in Carol‘s mind. The music of Chico Hamilton is great for its mixture of various music forms such as orchestral-driven suspense, snazzy jazz cuts, bombastic percussion pieces, and low-key piano cuts to play up the sense of terror and horror as Hamilton’s score is a major highlight of the film.

The film’s ensemble cast is incredible as it includes some notable small roles from Renee Houston as a regular customer at the manicure places Carol works at, Valerie Taylor as Carol’s boss, Helen Fraser as Carol’s co-worker Bridget, James Villers and Hugh Futcher as friends of Colin, director Roman Polanski in an un-credited cameo as a man playing spoons with a music trio, and Patrick Wymark as the landlord who meets Carol as he is shocked by the state of the apartment while intrigued by her troubled appearance. John Fraser is wonderful as Colin who tries to pursue Carol in hopes to talk to her as he’s confused by her behavior. Ian Hendry is terrific as Helen’s boyfriend Michael who is baffled by Carol’s disgust towards him. Yvonne Furneaux is excellent as Carol’s older sister Helen who is frustrated by Carol’s odd behavior as well as Carol’s resistance to do more with her life.

Finally, there’s Catherine Deneuve in a performance that is truly for the ages. In the role of Carol, Deneuve displays the beauty that she’s known for but it’s with a great sense of restraint as she doesn’t have a lot of dialogue as she has to use her physicality to express this young woman’s unraveling. Even in the way she looks at things or how her eyes do the acting, it’s Deneuve being fearless to playing this shy woman who is mentally collapsing as she would also exhibit violent behaviors. It’s a performance that is simply unforgettable as Catherine Deneuve goes all out in what is definitely one of her greatest works of her career.

Repulsion is an outstanding film from Roman Polanski that features a magnificent performance from Catherine Deneuve. It’s a film that truly explores the world of madness and repression set in an apartment where it adds to the element of terror that a young woman is surrounded by. It’s also a compelling character study to explore this woman’s descent as she starts to lose grip on reality. In the end, Repulsion is a phenomenal yet fascinating psychological-horror film from Roman Polanski.

Roman Polanski Films: Knife in the Water - Cul-de-Sac - The Fearless Vampire Killers - Rosemary’s Baby - Macbeth (1971 film) - (What?) - Chinatown - The Tenant - Tess - (Pirates (1986 film)) - Frantic - Bitter Moon - Death and the Maiden - The Ninth Gate - The Pianist - Oliver Twist (2005 film) - The Ghost Writer - Carnage - (Venus in Fur) - (Based on a True Story) - (An Officer and a Spy) - (The Palace)

© thevoid99 2012


Chris said...

The atmosphere reminded me of The Double Life of Veronique (1991), showing personal intimacy and small details in a sensitive girl's day-to-day life. I think viewers can either find this style very intense or very boring. I was captivated, and agree Catherine Deneuve performance was magnificent, and the direction is top-notch too, as you say.

thevoid99 said...

I got sucked into the film once I was aware of what Polanski wanted to. Deneuve's performance is unlike anything I was seeing and man, I need to get the Criterion DVD.

Anonymous said...

Great review, this film is so well shot and makes effective use of outstanding camerawork and use of sound.

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-It's currently my favorite Polanski film at the moment. Truly a work of art.

Anonymous said...

Thanks you should check out my review of it if you get time.

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-I'm reading it right now.