Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Repulsion - Review

Repulsion is a disturbing exploration of one woman's isolation and descent into madness. Carol (Catherine Deneuve) works in a beauty parlour in London and lives in a rented flat with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). She appears disconnected from the world and is unable to respond to those who attempt communication, often drifting into a dream-like state where she simply stares ahead vacantly.

When Helen goes on holiday with her lover and she is left alone, Carol's time and space become distorted as she is haunted by her past and begins halluncinating. Polanski is well known for his fascination with the grotesque. In the confined claustrophobic space of the apartment where most of the film is set, Carol has removed a skinned rabbit from the fridge and left it on a table to rot and attract flies. Potatoes begin sprouting long, crooked shoots. The objects are unsettling, as much as the violence that occurs later in the film, as they reflect Carol's lack of awareness of her body and mind. She doesn't appear to eat for days.

The film brilliantly instils a sense of unease. Initially the style appears as pure realism, documenting days in the life of a disturbed young woman. The pace is slow, tension builds gradually and the camera never leaves her. The film then turns to the surreal and horrific as the walls expand and space becomes flexible and distorted. Giant cracks appear and groping hands burst out from the walls. Reality and her nightmare world infuse together in a disconcerting fashion.

The title refers to Carol's strong abhorrence of all men, due to implied sexual abuse from her father. Helen is having an affair with a married man, early in the film Carol cannot stand his toothbrush being in her glass, and she throws it in the bin. Her beauty is a danger to her, her space is consistently invaded by men, even as she walks down the street she is leered at lustfully. When she fails to react to a young man's relentless pursuit of her, 'forgetting' their dates and ignoring his phone calls, his obsession drives him to kick down her apartment door. When she fails to deliver the rent money to the landlord, he comes to claim it and soon becomes fascinated by her naked thighs in her nightdress.

Repulsion's incentive is to portray the ramifications of the destructive and intrusive male gaze, an undoubtedly daring approach for the 1960's. The most impressive aspect of Roman Polanski's Repulsion is how strikingly contemporary it seems, 47 years on from its release. Steve McQueen's Shame springs to mind as a comparison. Both films share a similar voyeuristic quality and detached protagonists stifled by loneliness. Shame focuses on Brandon pursuing his sex addiction and being increasingly disconnected from those around him; we watch him wandering around his apartment, masturbating in toilet cubicles, and sleeping with prostitutes. Yet despite his relentless pursuit of sex, he is also clearly repulsed by it. One woman repeatedly rings him and leaves flirtatious messages on his answering machine, similar to Carol’s ringing unanswered phone. Repulsion is a timeless psychological thriller that creepily captures the perspective of a deeply haunted mind.


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