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Thread: Briefy noted: POSSESSION (Andrzej Żuławski 1981) - Metrograph 4K reissue Oct. 15

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    Briefly noted: POSSESSION (Andrzej Żuławski 1981) - Metrograph 4K reissue Oct. 15



    Monster love and a painful divorce that turns batshit crazy

    This like my report on the new Bond movie is also not a review. Inexplicable, laughable, then perhaps in the second half increasingly horrifying, this isn't a film I can take altogether seriously or see as a worthwhile cinematic experience. But it was once controversial, it was banned in the UK, misrepresented by a mutilated print in the Us on arrival, and yet Isabelle Adjani (who costars with Sam Neill) received acting awards at Cannes and elsewhere for her balls-out performance. It's of historical interest and might do well as a subject of discussion in film school classes.

    Those interested in Polish cinema must see it. It's considered Polish auteur Andrzej Żuławski's masterpiece. There are two aspects to the film that I lik. It "makes a great, conspicuous use of wide-angle deep-focus photography, which renders each interior eerily compressed and all exteriors airy and ominous at the same time." I am quoting the excellent article from 2012 by the Polish film critic and scholar Michał Oleszczyk. Shot somewhat inexplicably in English and in Berlin when it still had the wall, the film has a stark, clean look, pleasing, distinctive visuals that set off the separated couple's hysteria neatly.

    It also contains a surprising development: that the wife (Adjani) starts hanging out in a large, empty, disheveled apartment where she begins caring for and copulating with a many-tentacled monster with a lust for blood. As Oleszczyk tells us, "The monster's design is courtesy of the great Carlo Rambaldi, who concocted it exactly one year before presenting the world with its ultimate cuddly friend, 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.'" It's a beautiful monster. I like the monster as a monster. It's interesting to see a critter like this turn up in a film that's not a sci-fi film or quite a horror film. Faute de mieux, I start to like it better than either the frantic Neill or the unhinged Adjani. It may have more in common with E.T. than at first appears.

    The second half of the film is increasingly violent and hysterical. But the first half provides poor preparation for that because it is simply absurd. Adjani was only 25. This role made her famous. But her wonderful acting just seems terrible to me. I never saw her in this before. I knew her from riper roles in films like Camille Claudel (about Rodin's wife, who also goes mad) and Queen Margot (and operatic film by the great Patrice Chéreau and with a great cast - where she has more gravitas, more charisma, and a deepened beauty. Adjani is one of the great divas of French cinema of the last fifty years. But here she seems strangely lightweight, despite the violent role. It is not helped by her playing an alter ego role as the lily-white schoolteacher, Helen, who deals with the couple's child and is visited by Mark (Neill) from time to time, without his noticing the similarity.

    Possession is an unusual genre hybrid. As Oleszczyk notes, the filmmaker falls "mid-way between Brian DePalma and Ingmar Bergman." He isn't as flashy and slick or as cold as DePalma; he really cares about the degenerating relationship of the couple, as Bergman does in straightforward psychologically searching work like "Scenes from a Marriage," the classic miniseries of which a slick but unconvincing new knockoff is playing on HBO today with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain doing their A-List best with inferior material and direction. But if you ask me, midway between DePalma and Bergman is no man's land, nowhere in particular. There might have been a way to convey the nightmarish feel to Żuławski of his own marriage's breakdown, which Oleszczyk reports he was basing this film on, along with Anna Karenina, but he lacks the ability to convey real relationship intensity the way Bergman does. It just looks like drama school bad acting to me.

    Possession, 124 mins., debuted in the new 4K restoration at Austin (Fantastic Fest), Sept. 2021, with a West Coast debut at Hollywood (Beyond Fest). Its exclusive US theatrical and digital opening is at Metrograph, NYC, Oct. 1, 2021. Nationwide in theaters Oct. 15.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-10-2021 at 08:31 PM.


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