Repulsion – 1965
Director – Roman Polanski
Starring – Catherine Deneuve
I came to this film knowing nothing at all about it, except for the brief synopsis on the Netflix sleeve. If you’re going to watch this thriller, I highly recommend doing it the same way that I did. Going in blind is by far the best way to experience it. I wasn’t ready in the least for the ride that I was about to go on.
The story is a fairly simple one, a young, attractive, French girl, Carol (Deneuve), lives in London with her sister. She is very shy, to the point of uncomfortability around men, and she is scared when she is left alone. Aside from the constant attention she gets from the opposite sex, her neurotic behavior and her fears are elevated by the fact that her sister spends all of her free time giving her attention to her live-in, married boyfriend.
But that is all prologue…the story really gets rolling when Carol’s sister and her boyfriend take a two week trip to Italy, leaving her all alone with her paranoia and fear. Carol goes from bad to worse, gradually at first, but then by leaps and bounds. At about the half hour mark I was still feeling a little bit board and having trouble with my attention wandering. I was sure this was going to be another run of the mill girl fending for herself, but somehow she finds the strength to overcome type story line. As we got further and further in, the film refused to flinch, and my attention wandered less and less. Carol’s downward spiral progressed to such a degree that I wondered aloud just how far they were going to take it. It was at this point that I realized, I was sitting bolt upright, with tense muscles, eyes locked on the screen. From that point forward, that is how I stayed.
The problem with reviewing a movie like this is that it works best without knowing anything, but when it’s over all you want to talk about is the stuff you can’t talk about without ruining that effect for someone else. With that in mind, I can’t really talk to much more about the plot without spoiling something the film works really hard for, suffice to say you should definitely check it out.
Shot entirely in black in white with an almost documentary feel, the film really puts us in-between Carol and the rest of the world. How the camera moves with her and around her is based entirely on how she sees the world. When she is feeling comfortable and safe, we maintain a nice distance, and are able to watch her interact with those around her. On the other hand, when she is feeling cornered or paranoid, the camera is right on top of her, shooting her eyes and face in extreme close-up. Her fear and anxiety radiates from the screen and infects us with an unease. We are acutely aware of our and her surroundings as we wait for the next delusion, or psychological trap to be sprung.
The set in which we spend most of the movie, is maleable in the later stages of her psychosis. At times it seems narrow and uncomfortable, almost maliciously crowding us, and at others it is voluminous and filled with strange, uncomfortable shadows. The bathroom changes from nice, white, tiled bathroom, to blackened, disease ridden, and threatening in a matter of moments. Basically this warm safe place has the potential to be dangerous and wild at a moment’s notice. The tone of the apartment is helped tremendously by the glorious high contrast light and shadow world that exists within Carol’s mind.
Roman Polanski chose a relative unknown actress for the lead role, and found in Catherine Deneuve, the perfect red herring. Seemingly so demure and un-assuming, she really throws herself into this role, and wakes up a hidden monster inside of herself. Though the supporting actors fill out the rest of the real world nicely, the main attraction is Deneuve giving it her all.
I highly recommend doing what you can to avoid reading about or learning what happens before you see this film, but even if you do know, watch it and enjoy.