Repulsion (1965)

Still from Repulsion

Nothing I’ve ever read about this Roman Polanski film made me want to watch, and now that I’ve seen it I can’t say I liked it very much. It’s a horror film, and it’s a kind of horror film that I find pretty unpleasant. Not that I can’t recognize the artistry of it, but it’s not something I can imagine ever enjoying.

This is the story of a young French woman living in London with her sister. The sister goes on vacation with her British boyfriend, and Carol (Catherine Deneuve) sinks even further into the psychosis she’s clearly bordering on from the beginning. The cinematic depiction of a psychotic psychology is very striking and inventive. I especially liked the use of extreme visual distortion, which Polanski explains in an interview was done with short focal length camera lenses. The fact that everything was done either in camera or using only props and sets is quite impressive.

That’s about all I have to say about this one, other than the fact that Deneuve gives another great performance. Fun to compare and contrast this one with the very different performance she gave in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg the previous year. I guess I’ll also mention that the way Polanski shot her reminded me of how he shot Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby: fragile, bare-legged blondes lost in a cavernous, shadowy big city apartment. The big difference is that Carol is definitely mentally ill, whereas Rosemary may or may not be. Perhaps part of what alienates me from Repulsion is that it uses mental illness to create a genre horror story. Carol, for all her fragility (oops, almost wrote “frigidity”!) and almost childlike vulnerability, is still basically a monster. It’s a cruel story.


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