Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Catherine Deneuve,
Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux
Director: Roman Polanski
Audio: LPCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: July 28, 2009
Repulsion was Roman Polanski’s first English language film, and a worthy precursor to Rosemary’s Baby. It’s a movie that seems to blend classic surrealism with modern new wave sensibilities to craft a disturbing aura of psychosis and dread…the title is a perfect summation.
It stars Catherine Deneuve, and Polanski uses her natural beauty to make her both an object of desire and an unsettling package for pure fear and disjointed thinking. There is not much in the way of a plot; the film is merely an exploration of a fragile woman’s deteriorating mental condition, without explanation or summarization.
Carole Ledoux (Deneuve) is a Belgian woman working in a spa and living with her sister Helene (Funreaux) in an English flat. Carole is quiet and introverted, and despite her beauty, seems to have trouble connecting with men. Her sister’s married lover Michael (Hendry) is a frequent visitor, and Carole doesn’t appreciate little things like him leaving his toothbrush in her glass in the bathroom. Or that straight razor…
The two leave for a getaway to Italy, leaving Carole alone with her increasingly prominent madness. She sees and hears cracks everywhere. She envisions groping hands coming from walls. Her suitor Colin (Fraser) has no clue what kind of danger he’s in. Nor does an intrusive landlord who comes calling for the rent money that Carole forgot to pay.
It’s a strange and thoroughly unsettling escapade into one woman’s personal hell…her fear and repulsion for the men in her life (sometimes warranted, sometimes not) is driving her further and further inwards. There are signs all around: a rotting rabbit, the buzzing of flies, the droning of clocks, and those cracks. Each indicates a soul in torment, and a mental state breaking down.
Polanski is a brilliant director for this kind of work, and he flows effortlessly from a new wave style where jazzy music and long, rough, hand held camera shots give way to the potent surrealism of a Bunuel offering, growing more and more nightmarish as the proceedings develop. One can’t help but think of the imagery of Un Chein Andalou, with its dead animals, hands caressing female forms, razor blades and eyeballs. But where Bunuel and Salvador Dali crafted an amusing stretch of dreamlike nonsense, Polanski drives his movie with a much more sinister purpose.
There is no meaning to discuss here; this is an exercise in cinematic style by a master visionary who is willing to let the images be the purpose. This is not the kind of film that will appeal to everyone, not even necessarily horror buffs, but it IS the kind of experience you’ll have a hard time shaking free from once “the end” arrives on the screen.
And the final shot, in its own bizarre way, is perfect, bringing everything into some kind of twisted, logical circle. Just don't ask me to tell you what it really means...I'm sure only Polanski knows.
Criterion continues to impress with their issuance of classic black and white films in high definition. The photography in Repulsion is most striking; high contrast with lots of shadows and dark rooms, but with clear images and minimal grain. There are a few aging artifacts noticeable on the print from time to time, like a mild line or specks, but nothing distracting.
This is a terrific uncompressed mono offering; sound is most important, and the subtleties of background sounds, like a ticking clock, noises from the streets and the sounds of lovemaking from another room help build an unusual but potent listening experience, with a few moments of strong, surprising sounds to lend some dynamic range. The music, ranging from wild jazz to ethereal tones, is a real plus as well.
The extras include a commentary track with Roman Polanski and Catherine Deneuve, edited together and recorded in the mid-90s. It’s mostly Roman, but he offers plenty of humble insights into his film, including his assertion that it’s one of the shoddiest movies he’s made.
There is also a 2003 documentary “A British Horror Film” looking back at the making of the movie, as well as an original 1964 television documentary that shows the director and star while on set. There are a pair of original trailers and a booklet featuring an essay from film scholar Bill Horrigan.
Repulsion is more attractive than ever, thanks to Criterion’s continued splendid work in Blu-ray. Roman Polanski’s unsettling masterpiece of surreal horror still packs quite a punch more than forty years after he unleashed it upon the world.