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Possession (1981) - Andrzej Zulawski

Related: art horror - divorce allegory - Andrzej Zulawski - divorce - 1981 - film

Possession (1981) - Andrzej Zulawski

Possession (1981) - Andrzej Zulawski


Possession is a 1981 film by Andrzej Zulawski. The theme is a horror allegory on divorce, much like David Cronenberg's The Brood.. Special effects were done by Carlo Rambaldi

Mark (Sam Neill) comes home from months on the road to find his flighty wife, Anna (Isabelle Adjani in an almost bug-eyed performance), ready to divorce him. Distraught and angry, he tracks down her lover, but discovers a secret unknown to either of the men. Anna has given birth, literally, to a demon lover (created by monster maker Carlos Rambaldi), and she'll murder anyone who dares to come between them. Full of anger, jealousy, emotional suffering, and vindictiveness, this bizarre, bleak horror film is a mix of Hollywood melodrama, European psychodrama, and the raw, blunt emotions of personal art cinema. Mark and Anna grow increasingly shrill and erratic as they sink deeper into madness and obsession, and finally doppelgängers, also played by Neill and Adjani, arise to take their place. Hints of Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, and the biological horrors of David Cronenberg float through the story. The English-language French production was shot in Germany with a Polish director and an international cast, which only adds to the dissonance. Andrzej Zulawski (who claims that the film was inspired by his own divorce) directs this obscure and often alienating film with unrelenting intensity. The 2-hour film was cut down to 80 minutes for its original American release, and has only now been restored to full length. The DVD features commentary by Zulawski in conversation with his biographer, Dan Bird. --Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com

While Zulawski would no doubt want his film to be seen sui generis, perhaps the best way to summarise it, for better or worse, is as a head on collision between David Cronenberg's The Brood and Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo. In other words, as a piece of arthouse exploitation that may well fall into the void between the two camps. -- K H Brown 2002-2004 http://www.kinocite.co.uk/14/1410.php [Jul 2004]

Much has been written of Adjani’s performance (which won the Palm D’Or for Best Actress Award at Cannes), which splits fans and foes alike, either bordering on hysteria, or crossing the border entirely. I think the performance is just right, since we don’t get to witness true hysterics in contemporary cinema anymore. It’s almost a lost art form. Regardless, you have to commend a leading lady who plays a sex scene with a sticky, slimy octopus-like Carlo Rambaldi (“E.T.”) creation as her leading man gawks at her from around a corner. --http://www.filmthreat.com/Reviews.asp?Id=3749 [Jul 2004]

With Possession, writer/director Andrzej Zulawski attempts to wed the art house to the grindhouse; unfortunately for the audience, the resulting marriage works out about as well as the one between the movie’s two central characters. There are a number of good ideas struggling to break free of the quagmire that is Possession, and when one or another of them briefly gets its head up above the muck, the film really does work. There aren’t nearly enough of those moments, however, and the self-indulgent, self-congratulatory manner in which Zulawski handles just about everything that goes on between one set of credits and the other makes for about as thoroughgoing a case of self-sabotage as you’re ever likely to see. -- Scott Ashlin, http://www.1000misspenthours.com/reviews/reviewsn-z/possession.htm [Jul 2004]

Zulawski feels like he has much he wants to say. Symbolism - The Berlin Wall representing divisions, everybody seeks perfected clone versions of the other - often looms as though he is pointing a big arrow at it. But what he is really trying to make a film about is not at all clear - marriage breakup ? an out-and-out horror film ? monsters from the Id ? There is so much going on that everything eventually collapses into symbolic overkill, not to mention total narrative incoherence. You can draw nominal similarities to David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) which featured a husband trying to rescue his estranged wife from a psychotherapeutic technique that allowed her to express herself by physically giving birth to monsters. Possession could almost be a subjective, internalized Brood - one that comes sans the explaining rationale of pschyotherapeutic techniques. Indeed Possession almost seems to inhabit the same kind of surreal interior territory as Polanski’s mental breakdown film Repulsion (1965) - it seems to be a subjective work from the inside of the emotional traumas of separation. But if that is what it is, Zulawski gives us no handholds. Everybody in the film seems totally nuts and it is never clear whose emotional trauma we are seeing - Neill’s or Adjani’s. That said there is definitely a small cult that regards this as a minor masterpiece. Even Sam Neill called this the favourite among his films. --Richard Scheib, http://www.moria.co.nz/fantasy/possession81.htm [Nov 2004]

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