Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski)

Catherine Deneuve is pretty and timid, a bit spacey, but nobody suspects (except possibly her older sister Helen, if she has ever paid that much attention) the extent of her psychosis until Helen goes on vacation with her awful boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry, philandering zombie in Tales from the Crypt), leaving Catherine alone in their apartment with her thoughts. It turns out her thoughts are dangerous.

Maybe this is just a 1960’s thing, but when Catherine finally starts murdering people (first her stalker who thinks she’s in a relationship, then her landlord who offers an alternate method of paying the rent), I felt they were creeps who deserved it. But it seems from the extras that the movie just wants us to believe that Catherine is mad (and has always been mad, according to the final zoom into a childhood photo where she looks distracted/possessed).

A stylistic triumph on a tiny budget. Polanski’s follow-up to Knife in the Water and his UK debut, bankrolled by porn producers who would work with him again for Cul-de-sac. This one was written as the commercial hit that would fund the next one, a more personal work for Polanski. It’s lovely that slow-moving one-woman psychological horror with unproven stars (Deneuve had done Umbrellas of Cherbourg but wasn’t yet internationally renowned) used to be considered a sure hit.

Michael: John Fraser of Tunes of Glory

and Helen: Yvonne Furneaux, of La Dolce Vita

When Catherine is alone, the walls crack and ooze, rapist ghosts appear, hands grab her through the walls (a Cocteau-meets-Cronenberg effect using latex sheets bought from a condom factory). Polanski already showed a strong visual style with Knife in the Water, and here he’s got a ringer of a cinematographer: Gilbert Taylor had just shot A Hard Day’s Night and Dr. Strangelove. The film won a silver bear in Berlin alongside Le Bonheur (Alphaville got the gold).

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