Monday, October 20, 2014

Possession (1981 film)

Directed by Andrezj Zulawski and written by Zulawski and Frederic Tuten, Possession is the story of a woman who starts to behave very strangely after asking her international spy husband for a divorce. The film explores a marriage coming apart as well as a woman unraveling amidst the decision to end her marriage. Starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill. Possession is a terrifying yet provocative film from Andrezj Zulawski.

A spy returns home from a mission as his wife asks for a divorce as she starts to behave erratically as he wonders what is wrong with as their marriage starts to crumble. It’s a film that plays into questions about how a marriage can fall apart as questions of infidelity come into play but things become more complicated due to the behavior of the wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) who becomes neglectful towards her son Bob (Michael Hogben) as well as being unkempt and goes away for long periods of time. For the husband Mark (Sam Neill), he wonders what Anna is up to as he asks her friend Margie (Margit Cartensen) and a lover of Anna in Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) as they don’t really know. Eventually, the answer that Mark finds would force him to question to his own devotion to his own wife.

The film’s screenplay starts off with Mark returning home as it showcases that his life as a spy is an ambiguous one where not much is revealed as his home life isn’t great either due to his numerous absences as he desires to stay home. Upon this decision, his life would unravel as he sees his marriage fall apart where Anna would leave for days as her decisions become questionable to the point that he would give her space until the realization that he couldn’t leave her. In some ways, the film is a love story of a man trying to prove his devotion to his wife who wants nothing to do with him as well as some revelations about how their marriage disintegrated. Even as Mark is tempted move on from his marriage after meeting Bob’s schoolteacher Helen (Isabelle Adjani) who is the exact opposite of Anna. Still, Mark is eager to help Anna who starts to unravel as he hires private detectives to find out what she is doing as it would involve some extremely dark aspects relating to Anna’s odd behavior.

Andrezj Zulawski’s direction is very stylish in not just some of the tracking shots he creates that are very elaborate. It’s also in some of the intimate moments between Mark and Anna where it showcases a lot of dramatic tension and quieter moments that showcases their disintegrating marriage. Notably a scene at a restaurant where Mark makes a scene as it showcases some of the film’s manic tone where Zulawski uses a lot of hand-held cameras to capture the action along with some long takes. Even the tracking shots that are created go on for a while to play into the world the characters are in as it’s set in West Berlin near the Berlin Wall where Mark often sees guards looking at him from the Wall. The use of the locations has Zulawski play into something where it serves as a metaphor for where Mark and Anna are in their life and marriage.

The sense of maniacal terror definitely looms once it becomes clear into why Anna has become quite secretive as it includes this eerie flashback scene of a meltdown in a subway tunnel that is just fucked up beyond recognition. It’s a moment in the film where it’s very primal and visceral where Zulawski’s use of hand-held cameras and the location itself adds to that sense of terror that looms. Even as the film progresses where this mix of horror, drama, and suspense come together where it plays into what Mark wants from Anna. Overall, Zulawski creates a truly mesmerizing yet haunting film about a man’s attempt to save his marriage.

Cinematographer Bruno Nuytten does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography with its use of grayish colors to play into the dreariness of the locations and its tone of horror. Editors Marie-Sophi Dubus and Suzanne Lang-Willar do fantastic work with the editing with its use of jump-cuts from a film that Mark watches about Anna to some of the rhythmic cuts in the film‘s suspenseful moments. Art director Holger Gross does amazing work with the look of the apartments the characters look including the apartment that Anna lives in all by herself.

Costume designer Ingrid Zore does terrific work with the costumes from the blue dresses of Anna to the more white dresses that her doppelganger Helen wears. The sound work of Norman Engel and Karl-Heinz Laabs do brilliant work with the sound from some of the effects it play into the film‘s horror as well as the mixing to convey some of its suspense and ominous moments. The film’s music by Andrezj Korzynski is superb for its very chilling use of pianos and discordant string arrangements as well as sound textures that play into the sense of terror that looms in the film.

The film’s incredible cast include some notable small roles from Carl Duering as a private detective hired to follow Anna, Shaun Lawton as the detective’s partner, Joanna Hofer as Heinrich’s mother, Maximillian Ruthlein as an associate of Mark from the spy service, and Michael Hogben as Mark and Anna’s son Bob who wonders about his mother’s many absences. Heinz Bennent is terrific as Anna’s lover Heinrich who is a very strange man who claims to love everything as he is also a skilled fighter as he is someone that tests Mark. Margit Cartensen is wonderful in a small role as Anna’s best friend Margie whom Mark doesn’t like very much as she is aware that something about Anna isn’t right as she helps Mark in looking after Bob.

Sam Neill is great as Mark as this spy who returns home to see his marriage unraveling as it’s a performance that is terrifying at times in terms of Mark’s devotion to Anna as he also displays a darkly comic sense of charm to his role. Finally, there’s Isabelle Adjani in a performance for the ages in the dual roles of Anna and Helen. In the latter, there is a sweetness to the character of Helen as she represents everything that Anna isn’t while being offbeat in her look due to the green eyes she has. In Anna, Adjani goes all out as it is over-the-top at times but also a performance that is just visceral and frightening to watch. Most notably the scene at the tunnel where Adjani is like a wild animal coming apart as it’s a performance that is unquestionably one of the scariest performances captured on film.

Possession is a phenomenal film from Andrezj Zulawski that features a very terrifying and unforgettable performance from Isabelle Adjani. The film is without question one of the most intriguing films about marriage as well as being a smart genre-bender that refuses to define itself into one genre. Even as it has something for everyone including horror fans in how it can go to great extremes. In the end, Possession is a magnificent film from Andrezj Zulawski.

Andrezj Zulawski Films: (The Third Part of the Night) - (Diabel) - That Most Important Thing: Love - (The Public Woman) - (L’Amour braque) - (On the Silver Globe) - (My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days) - (Boris Godunov) - (The Blue Note (1991 film)) - (Szamanka) - (Fidelity) - (Cosmos (2015 film))

© thevoid99 2014


Chris said...

Excellent choice for the month of horror! I agree about the performances, and that it is a mix of genres. I love how unpredictable the story is, I think on my part it was a mix of disgust and fascination. Might be the best Cronenberg film that Cronenberg never made.

ruth said...

I like Adjani and Sam Neill but stories about ppl being possessed don't appeal to me at all and I think I've been traumatized by The Exorcist!

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-It is such a great film and a fucking scary one. One I probably won't see again because it's so fucked up. Actually, Cronenberg did make a film like this of sorts in The Brood which came out 2 years earlier.

@ruth-Well, it's not really about being possessed but rather the dissolution of a marriage and how a man's devotion can lead to all sorts of trouble while his estranged wife starts to fall apart.

s. said...

This is one of the freakiest movies I've seen and Adjani is simply phenomenal in this. That underground passage scene is some of the most intense acting I've seen.

thevoid99 said...

@sati-That is scene I never want to see again. It fucking scared me. It was intense, it was horror at its purest. Adjani fucking killed it.

Unknown said...

How did you watch this? Was it on DVD? YouTube? I heard a decent copy of this movie is hard to get.

thevoid99 said...

@Tina Privitera-I downloaded it a long time ago. I'm sure you can find the film on DVD/Blu-Ray through Amazon. If you have Turner Classic Movies, it is likely to be on the channel soon as they did show it a few times in recent years.

Unknown said...

Ooh! Thank you for responding so quickly! I'll check it out. I know there are some low quality versions on YouTube, but I would like to watch in on a TV in a dark room under a blanket with my cat.

thevoid99 said...

@Tina Privitera-I'd suggest to go to TCM's website for information and wait to see when it's coming on. I'd totally recommend it on TV and believe me, it will fuck you up.