Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: Roman Polanski and Gerard Brach
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux, Patrick Wymark
I'll start reviewing a couple of Polanski features, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite directors, since Repulsion, his first feature on English language and the last one I've seen as of now, is another win for this great artist (I'll leave his much publicized and inevitably discussed personal life aside).
Repulsion is Polanski's first part of his famous (unofficial) "Apartment trilogy" (together with Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant) and I'm definitely not disappointed. Although the uniquely bizarre and grotesque nature of The Tenant still makes it my favourite Polanski feature, Repulsion is probably his creepiest and most disturbing movie, featuring a great performance by Catherine Deneuve, in the role of a mysterious, tormented and paranoid woman, who faces a downward spiral all alone in a creepy apartment, where the majority of the plot is taking place.
The apartment has a sinister presence in Repulsion - Polanski uses lightning and shadow contrasts along with creepy camera angles and brief visual shocks to create an atmosphere that is mirroring the state of mind of the main character (along with the infamous shot of the raw decaying rabbit and the razor next to it). Repulsion, like plenty of films in Polanski's filmography, is a horror movie as much as it is a psychological thriller, that doesn't depend on cheap scares or gore to be truly unsettling. There is at least one scene in it that would make you shake - the tension in this one, which is the trademark in almost every single Polanski picture - is practically unbearable. Although the pacing could have done a little more work - just how many scenes of Deneuve walking around London does one need?
Deneuve is admirably believable in a performance that could have easily turned out hammy and unnatural. Her vulnerable and subtle approach makes her character unusually sympathetic, even in the movie's most critical and gruesome moments.
Spoilers in the next two paragraphs:
Unlike the often compared The Tenant, Repulsion is relatively easy to understand and it's probably not as open-to-interpretation as the former Polanski masterpiece, or even Rosemary's Baby - a couple of SPOILERS ahead - I guessed the reason of Deneuve's anti-social behaviour, repulsion towards men and the vulnerable dependence to her sister relatively early in the film; the continuous focus of the family photographs kinda gave it away. Still, the final subtle shot in the film of Carole's frightening look pointed at her father is a brilliant way to unravel the mystery. But there are many more hidden meanings and metaphors than this twist - the hands in the hallway and the constant cracking of the walls is an ingenious way to depict Carole's sexual repression and lust, which is one of the reasons she isolates herself in the apartment.
Despite a couple of contrivances in the plot and some hardly believable moments (SPOILER - such as the killing of her possible boyfriend - just how does a weak and undernourished woman kill a much stronger person so easily, with one punch, no less than using a candle holder?) and the aforementioned pacing problems, Repulsion definitely presents one of Polanski's greater works - and there are plenty of them, believe me.