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VINE VOICEon 6 June 2016
You know when you see a film called Repulsion that it’s not going to be wine and roses, nor an altogether pleasant viewing experience, all the more so when the director is Roman Polanski. Whatever his notoriety, Polanski has the knack more than almost any other director (with the possible exception of David Lynch) of taking audiences out of their comfort zone. Not necessarily horror films, but capable of doing something to your head, unsettling you, making you feel ill at ease.

Sure he’s also made narratives in other styles too (Chinatown, The Pianist, Tess and many more) Not all of his movies have been great, but when he is on song Polanski is little short of genius. I first experienced this at about 11 or 12, alone in the house and watching Rosemary’s Baby on TV, after which I was terrified to go upstairs alone. The same was true when I first saw The Tenant a few years later, but the movie that struck me as the apogee of Polanski’s art was Repulsion, made in 1965 and his first English language movie.

Usually described as a psychological horror film, visually influenced by early surrealist cinema, but in essence describes the descent into madness and hallucination of Carol Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve), a young Belgian woman living with her elder sister in London. It is most certainly NOT helped by the strapline dreamed up by a studio marketeer:

“The nightmare world of a virgin’s dreams becomes the screen’s shocking reality.”

While this may have attracted entirely the wrong sort of audience, the film itself offers no compromises, but leaves its own thesis with ambiguous hints but no definitive rationale for Carol’s behaviour. From Wikipedia:

"It explores the repulsion Carol feels about human sexuality and the repulsion her suitors experience when they pursue her. The movie vaguely suggests that her father may have sexually abused her as a child, which is the basis of her neuroses and breakdown. Other critics have noted Carol’s repeated usage of items related to her sister’s boyfriend Michael, as well as noting that his presence greatly provokes Carol at the beginning of the film. The film also approaches the theme of boundary breaking, with Tamar McDonald stating that she saw Carol as refusing to conform to the expected 'path of femininity'"

At the time, Repulsion was very unusual in having a female killer, though both killings are to fight off the unwanted advances of a man. In 1965 the film was almost unique in its study of the psychology of a person driven to those lengths – alongside Hitchcock‘s Spellbound and Psycho, and Michael Powell‘s Peeping Tom – though an industry of this style of psychological analysis has grown into its own sub-genre.

No doubt the film could be psychoanalysed at length, but to Joe Public the impact is disturbing, all the more so because of the ambiguity. We see the impact of her hallucinations complete with Freudian imagery, bizarre dreams, weird tricks being played with the space, her increasingly frenzied and murderous reaction to men, even the skinned rabbit she leaves to decay – but never at any point can we truly feel her emotions are clear and fully defined. She says almost nothing.

Of course, for this to work we have to begin with a credible scenario before this appalling transformation, and so it is. Carol works as a manicurist at the same salon as her sister; it bores her and makes her want to escape. She is intensely shy, uneasy in crowds, does not invite admirers and hates the sound of her sister Helen’s sexual adventures. Even in this relatively steady state, everything is not well with Carol: we see her tics and gestures, sweeping imaginary detritus from her clothes, but the real issues arise when Helen and Michael go on holiday to Italy and she is left alone in the flat.

Worth saying at this point that although the cinematography was primarily done to match the low budget, a single camera shot in black and white is very effective at conveying the claustrophobia of the flat and the sharp relief of sequences shot in very low light. The effect is edgy and menacing – contrasting strongly with the external shots of London in the swinging 60s, with cool and funky music. Shots of road digging and a minor car accident are there – and even a trio with a banjoist and two players of the spoons making two appearances.

Much of the film is recorded in silence as the camera slowly follows her around in close-up, pruriently perusing items in her eyeline, noting what she ignores, looking deep into her expressionless face, noting the fear in her eyes when men come close or talk to her. They don’t understand, and certainly don’t know the horror of the dreams where she is raped by an unseen male figure.

Included but not commented upon is Carol sitting at a bench over a big crack in the concrete, as if she identifies with it. This metaphor continues as the walls of the flat crack in her hallucination, observed by Carol though she takes no action. The walls expand and the hall wall ripples like putty and a forest of arms and hands protrude through to touch her face, to hold her breasts, to take advantage of her. Everywhere she looks there is torture.

Another common theme is the sound from another flat of a pianist practising (badly) – which metaphor is also used in The Tenant. This is a parallel London where every sight and sound betrays menace and danger – you never know what will turn against you, and we are looking from Carol’s point of view.

But then Helen and Michael return and the horror is discovered… the camera lingers on the effects in the living room, then settled on the family photo. We see the little blonde girl, her face turned to her left and looking daggers at her father. Rarely can a film have ended on such a haunting image. The past from which her traumas arise you can only imagine – and imagination is what drives fear. The true horror of Repulsion is not that which happens, not the sheer wanton blood lust but the fear and neuroses from the past that we all recognise – that which goes to our deepest and most distant memories.

Repulsion is a film that lives long in the memory, one that inspired a generation of horror films.

(c) Andy Millward, 2016
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on 24 February 2016
Very much a darkly suggestive Film Noir offering from Roman Polanski. Catherine Deneuve is deliciously detached and slightly deranged as the central character. Watch out for Patrick Wymark playing a sleazy opportunistic landlord; typical of the period! Everything is enhanced as being grubby and dirty by having been shot in black and white. The minimal script with some surprising psychological twists, still works superbly after all these years [originally made in the 1965].

One of the extras on the DVD is a very interesting interview with Polanski where he speaks openly to Clive James about film making, the killing of his wife Sharon Tate and about the liaison with the 15 year old girl that got him into so much hot water in the States. Having explored the illicit details James does what he usually does and spoils the final section of the interview with snide comments and asides rather than thanking his guest and wrapping things up. That aside, both the film and the extras are well worth buying, particularly if you are studying cult films of the period. Highly recommended all round.
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on 20 January 2016
Roman Polanski's Repulsion was his second feature film, and his English language debut. Made as a compromise after he tried to sell his initial screenplay entitled When Katelbach Comes (which would be made a year after Repulsion under the title of Cul De Sac) Polanski has described this film as his potboiler, and a means to an end which took him no more than seventeen days to submit the final screenplay to B Movie shlock producers Compton Films.

Despite his initial dismissal, Polanski has obviously come to appreciate this film and has never shyed away from it. Hardly surprising because it is probably the most vivid and compelling psychological thriller ever made. Coming of the success of Hitchcock's Psycho, many mainstream and B movie filmmakers tried to jump onto the bandwagon, with mixed results. Polanski meanwhile gave the stagnated genre a new lease of life that consentrated obsessively on the mundane. Instead of the shy and timid man who lives in the outskirts in a Gothic countryhouse, we've got Carol, a Belgium immigrant who shares a flat with her sexually active older sister in 60s South Kensington.

Instead of jump scares and jolts, Repulsion plays out slowly. From the opening shot of Carol's vacant eye and face, Polanski goes the literal route and he slowly builds up the tension through Carol's mundane life. Another factor of Carol's psychosis is her constant exposure to sex, workmen and suitors continually pounce on her; and all she wants is to be left alone. It is when she is finally left alone, when her sister goes away on holiday with her lover (who is married) that Carol's world deterioates. What could have been exploitative and over the top in the hands of another filmmaker, Polanski instead revels in Carol's 'visions' by creating simple, yet highly effective set pieces. Walls crack, imaginary men 'rape' Carol in a sucession of fast cuts and a ticking clock, only for the scene to end when we hear the loud sounds of a doorbell.

It is the mundane and the everyday sounds that we associate with that makes this film shocking and uncomfortable. Despite this being a psychological thriller, it can also be seen as a slice of 60 London. During the mid 60s many films prided itself on being about the times, and yet Repulsion oddly enough is one of the most realistic films made about the period. How many films were there during this period about what it was like for a young female immigrant living in 60's South Kensington? And how was it like for her to simply live in this society.

Repulsion is a horrific delight and is a perfect antidote to grusome horrors that were to come. Along with Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant, Repulsion served as the opening film of Polanski's informal trilogy of urban paranoia, and the best way to see this film is on the blu-ray Criterion released a few years back. The Criterion blu-ray has a digital remaster that revitilises Gill Taylor's ice cold black and white cinematography, making the film more alert and visceral. Contrast and clarity are superb with plenty of healthy grain. The sound, an LPCM 1.0 track, is also fantastic, Chico Hamilton's lurid score has never sounded so great and lurid, whilst clairty and detail to sounds such as cars travelling and door bells are so hightened that they give the film an edge. Not to mention the extras, ported over from Anchor Bay's phenoemnal DVD released back in 2002/2003 are brilliant and informative.

Overall Repulsion is a slow burning, but very memorable experience. Polanski may go on to direct classics such as Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown, but here he shows his knack at what he's best. Leading the audience on a journey through madness and chaos, all against an all too real and familier backdrop.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 July 2013
Any director who can make KNIFE IN THE WATER/CUL DE SAC/CHINATOWN/ROSEMARY'S BABY and "Repulsion" deserves a place in the hall of fame of film directors. Personally I feel "Repulsion" is his best, but it's run a close second by the others (Yes, I know-Not good English). Here he has the huge advantage of the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, tho, in quieter moments one does wonder how such a sexy woman can turn out to be quite so lonely! That's just me! Polanski gets the performence of her life from her helped by good photography and a script that relies on silence and incredible sound effects (Taps dripping,Piano practice by a neighbor, Bumps in the night, Bells from a nunnery, her sister having sex inthe next bedroom etc). Even tho I have seen this many times the scares still scare and the drama grips. Deneuve's fantasies and nightmares are made to seem so real, and with all the characters, bizarre and normal and in Wymark's case, dangerous, it's perhaps unavoidable that she finally goes completely mad. Brilliantly acted written and directed and with mood music, which I liked, by Chico Hamilton, this is a film all film lovers should see and own. The quality of the DVD is good (1.66:1 Anamorphic) and the price inc the extras (which I haven't seen) makes it even more of a must buy. One of the greats! (And I just love that final shot!!)
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on 21 March 2015
This movie starts off very well and you can sense the tension slowly building. After the inevitable happens about two thirds of the way through the rest of the film drags slightly, and I got a bit bored of seeing Catherine Deneuve wandering around her flat in her nightie, even though she is beautiful.
I loved the sixties feel music and cars, and it's well worth a watch.
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on 25 January 2008
Polanski had only recently defected from Poland at the time of this film,and so his English wasn't as yet fluent.Similarly,Catherine Deneuve's English was a bit shaky,expalining this film's silences and use of tone and mood rather than dialogue to get the point across.
It's a great depiction of a descent into schizophrenia,admittedly not entirely as this would happen in real life,about fear of relationships(? fear of sex)and lonliness in a big city.
One of the other reviewers points out how hard it is to imagine Deneuve,who is gorgeous in this film,managing to avoid male attention till she turns 20.Still,Polanski manages to make it work well.
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on 4 July 2010
Catherine Deneuve is brilliant in this early Roman Polanski psychological horror film. She plays Carol a young French woman living with a her sister in a small claustrophobic flat in London. She is socially awkward, mousy, emotionally repressed and quite clearly repulsed by anything and everything especially men. There is evidence of past possible sexual abuse. Carol's existence is alienated, sad and lonely. She seems to want to escape her world, even herself. Polanski's well thoughtout and meticulous attention to detail direction creates a frightening world relentlessly closing in on the terrified Carol. He uses sound to brilliant effect: water dripping, traffic outside, sudden ringing of telephone and doorbells to create and sense of claustrophia and this is heightened by the use of extreme close-ups. Much of the film is set in the small and cluttered flat in which it seems Carol's is constantly surrounded by closing in white walls and searing and glaring white light. Indeed Polanski's use of white light makes Carol look pale and ghostly and like a terrified deer in a powerful headlight. But it is the endless clock ticking that symbolises the timebomb of pent up rage within Carol...Polanski slowly builds the tension and suspense in his usual masterful way. If you are a fan of Polanski and indeed serious cinema then you should buy this. Those who want cheap thrills and instant gratification will be disappointed. A brilliant and atmospheric shocker.
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on 3 February 2018
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on 12 January 2018
very disturbing film gave me nightmares but love it
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on 3 June 2015
This is an absolutely brilliant film about mental health but definitely not one for the faint hearted
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