Monday, 7 November 2016

Possession

Possession; horror drama, France / Germany, 1981; D: Andrzej Żuławski, S: Sam Neill, Isabelle Adjani, Heinz Bennent

Berlin during the Cold war. The city is divided through a wall between the West and the East, and a similar fate seems to befallen a rift in marriage that divided Mark from his beloved wife Anna. She doesn't want to see him anymore, and he suspects she is cheating on him with another man. He indeed finds a man, Heinrich, who has an affair with Anna, but quickly realizes she is absent even from him during long periods, so there must be a third person. Mark takes custody of their son, Bob, and hires two detectives to investigate Anna's secret lover. The detectives find a tentacle monster in Anna's apartment, and she kills them. Anna starts behaving erratically, cutting herself with a knife. Mark finally finds out Anna is having sex with the monster in the apartment. Mark is wounded in a shootout and dies on the stairs with Anna. A clone of Mark appears and knocks on the door of their home. Bob commits suicide by drowning in the bathtub.

One of the most bizarre movies from the 80s, the director's 2nd film in France after getting away from his Polish homeland, "Possession" features Andrzej Zulawski in his pretentious best, as opposed to his many later films which would feature him in his pretentious worst. Puzzling, messy, hermetic and challenging, this psychological drama is not for everyone's taste, proving to be an existential art-film that - just like Polanski - untypically blends with horror elements, thereby even exacerbating its representation of trauma: as film critic Visnja Vukasinovic observed, it may be that Zulawski decided to visualize the psychosis of the husband and wife divorcing in the form of the (infamous) torso-tentacle monster. This is a weird trip, but it has a fascinating visual style thanks to dynamic camera drives and wide-angle lens (the "circulating" camera in the sequence where Mark speaks to the four directors in the office; the long camera drive through Heinrich's apartment when Mark first meets him; the frog-perspective as Mark often walking towards a giant apartment complex...) whereas the two leading actors - Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill - give energetic performances: Neill is simply indestructible in the scene where he is swinging in the rocking chair and announces to his wife: "I'm taking over!"

The interpretation of the hermetic symbolism managed to split the critics, just like Berlin wall split the city in the film. As the leitmotiv of the Berlin wall is featured prominently in several scenes, it may be that the whole film is one giant allegory on dictatorship of Communism: just like Germany was split between the West and the East during hat time, it seems that even Mark and Anna endure a schism, even literally when their two idealised clones show up. Could it be that the bloody monster in the dark apartment is a symbol for the dark secrets (and crimes) of Bolshevism which threaten to take possession of Anna's mind through their ideology? Does her manic outbursts in the Metro speak for her fight against this ideology? Is it a coincidence that it is revealed that Mark is some sort of secret agent who assassinates a man from the East in order to rescue Anna? There are several ways this story could be deciphered, yet it can also be interpreted without any political connotations, simply as a extreme allegory of negative emotions during a divorce, as well as the protagonists' crushing depression and despair due to the world that is indifferent to life, indifferent to evil that takes on many shapes and sizes throughout history. Anna even says: "Maybe goodness is just some kind of reflection upon evil". This is indeed a tricky film, featuring a demented tone that can go either way: it is not hard to figure out why some of Zulawski's later films collapsed due to it, yet here, they somehow manage to align into a functional whole.

Grade;+++

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