Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Repulsion (1965)

Roman Polanski’s first movie on the List, yay!

While most of the directors on the List so far are gone by now, Roman Polanski is still around, well, in Europe at least, and for me that marks the beginning of the current era. Which of course is a lot of bull because Polanski has been around so long that his career spans a whole series of eras. Yet, it still feels special to me.

I tend to like Roman Polanski’s movies and being presented with one I had never seen nor even heard of made me very excited. I was looking forward to this movie like a child for Christmas. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

That was not apparent from the opening of the movie, though. Pretty Catherine Deneuve as Carol Ledoux walks around the streets of London, goes to work in a beauty parlor and sits around at home with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Pretty boring. Slowly, though, we start to feel something is wrong. Carol is suited by a guy called Colin (John Fraser) who is hitting quite hard on her, but Carol pushes him off. In fact, she seems to be repulsed by men in general, especially Helen’s boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry). That is actually understandable, all the men in the movie are dicks, or at least acts like it. So, at this point I do understand why she abhors these guys.

Then Helen and Michael leave for a holiday in Italy and things start to go downhill fast for Carol. Her weirdness becomes more than just a quirk. At times she is catatonic, then she hallucinates, walls are cracking, there is an imagined man raping her in her bed and arms from the walls are grapping for her. She isolates herself in her apartment, which becomes a metaphor for her mental prison as are the rotting rabbit and the vegetables in the kitchen. By the time her boyfriend and the landlord show up she has gone completely bananas.

This works beautifully. Carols decent into madness is very convincing. We get a view in on her hallucinations and they are frightening. There are very effective jump scares (hey, I was jumping in my seat, but I am also an easy victim) and Carol’s nightmare gets as rotten and revolting as the dead rabbit in the kitchen. It is a simple story, but it is done extremely effectively.

Catherine Deneuve is miles away from the happy girl in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and is every bit the insane girl. She is sweet and innocent in the beginning, catatonic with a completely empty look and wild berserker at times. Her eyes scream fear or vacancy and she seems to have become a model for a girl-doll-turned-lunatic-murderess. I am sure this will influence my impression of Deneuve in the movies to come.

The cinematography is also outstanding. It is black and white, yes, but it actually works to the advantage here. Madness apparently requires these black and white tones. The London Carol walks around in is so natural and realistic and completely offsets the mad visions in the apartment, where the special effects department has been busy.

There is in fact very little negative I can say about this movie. Do we need to know more about Carol and her background, why she is ill? Not really. It is impressionistic. We learn a lot about her just from looking at her and listening to her. An actual explanation would just be in the way. Is it too sensational, a pretty girl turned crazy? Maybe, but does that matter? Is it not because she is a pretty little thing that it seems even more powerful. The men never see her fragile mind, they only see a pretty face and sexy legs and so her isolation is complete.

I can only recommend “Repulsion”. It may be the best movie in 1965 for me. Certainly the most effective. Go watch it! Now!



  1. I too love this. Catherine Deneuve is wonderful as she descends into madness. As you say, it feels gradual, which really draws you in. I liked that it didn't give a reason as it added to the mystery of her experience instead of making it follow a prescripted path.

    One of the those films that shows the brilliance of black-and-white cinematography as well!

    1. Indeed. If we had gotten a lot of explanation we would not have felt so desoriented and thus sharing her experience. As it is we were drawn in very effectively.

  2. It's such an upsetting movie.

    Say what you will about Polanski, the apartment trilogy is great all the way through. I'm prone to liking Rosemary's Baby more than the others and The Tenant less than the others. Your mileage may vary.

    1. I do remember Rosemary's Baby allthough it is many years ago since I saw it, but I do remember it being interesting. I am looking forward to that rewatch.
      I tend to like Polanski and I hope the List will feature a lot of his movies.