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DVD Review: REPULSION


Studio: The Criterion Collection
Year: 1965
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Furneaux, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Patrick Wymark, Renee Houston, James Villeirs, Valerie Taylor
Director: Roman Polanski
Release Date: July 29, 2009, 8:07 am
Rating: Not Rated for
Run Time: 01h:45m:09s

REPULSION
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More early-career Polanski creepiness, from our friends at Criterion.

Movie Grade: A-

DVD Grade: B+

Roman Polanski is such a powerful cultural presence that it's hard not to read his biography into his filmsóthe fate of Evelyn Mulwray in Chinatown, for instance, is inextricably linked to that of Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, and Polanski's childhood terrors informs the journey of the hero of The Pianist. Similarly, there's no escaping the more notorious aspects of Polanski's public lifeóa recent documentary about him chronicled his trial for statutory rape and ongoing exile from America, and even the most charitable reading suggests that if Polanski isn't a criminal, he has made some deeply questionable moral judgments. All of this Page Six chatter detracts from one of the principal facts, though: Roman Polanski has directed some truly extraordinary movies, and without question, Repulsion is one of them.

Catherine Deneuve stars in this mid-60s tale set in London, but if the mod trappings evoke movies like Darling, the sinister tale is closer to Grand Guignol. Deneuve plays Carol, who doesn't much care for her job as a manicurist, and who cares even less for her sister's boyfriendóshe and Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) share a flat, and the moans from Helen's bedroom are terrifying to Carol. As the accompanying essay by Bill Horrigan mentions, frequent comparisons are made between this film and Hitchcock, but what we get here is more of a sustained effort in point of view, and of madnessóit's like Hitch without the sin, which necessitates punishment.

It is, then essentially a movie about repression and sublimated desireóit's got lots of affinities with Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, for instance, and we're consistently questioning all of our assumptions. Is Carol mad? Are horrifying things happening to her? Or is she simply delusional? As horror films go, it's not a particularly graphic one, which really makes it that much more scaryówhat we conjure up in our own minds is more frightening than anything Polanski could show us, and his frequent use of silence is central to our sense of terror. (There's a great jazz score from Chico Hamilton, though occasionally the mood can be undone by Polanski's weakness for the theremin.)

In many respects Deneuve's performance is all interiority, as she reacts to the horrors, real or imagined, around heróshe's almost ethereally beautiful, but that shouldn't blind us to her acting skills. Her Carol is already ill at ease as a Frenchwoman in London, and she's got the kind of alienated loneliness in a big city of strangers that rivals Travis Bickle's. And not many of us have much of an appetite for it in the first place, but if you do, after seeing this film you're likely never to eat rabbit again.

Criterion's release includes a 1994 commentary track with Polanski and Deneuveóthey're both very good on the nuts and bolts of production, but unfortunately they weren't recorded together, so the kind of back and forth you might hope for cannot materialize. Along with two original trailers is a very good making-of piece, A British Horror Film (24m:01s), produced in 2003 and featuring interviews with Polanski and producer Gene Gutkowski, among others; and a clip from a 1964 French television show, Grand Ècran, on set with Catherine and Roman, where he's clearly a stern taskmaster.

Jon Danziger July 29, 2009, 8:07 am