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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 12 March 2017
Watched this in the 80s and wanted to see it again!
Still a very atmospheric thriller!
Catherine deanuave is a brilliant actress!
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on 5 March 2002
This film charts the slow descent of a French girl, Carol, played by Catherine Deneuve, into madness and horror. The acting in this film is superb, and especially by Deneuve, who brings to her part a delicate balance of vulnerability and strangeness. Right from the start, there is a sense that this beautiful, introverted, seemingly harmless girl, is not 'quite all there.' Give her a slight push, and she will tumble into total madness. As a performance, it is reminiscent of Anthony Perkins in Psycho.
The camera is on Carol all the time, and we see events unfold through her paranoid and schizophrenic mind. We feel her isolation. The mundane is amplified -the ticking of a clock, the sounds of the street outside, the toiling of the bell from the next door nunnery-and made to seem menacing. She is dependant on her sister to such an extent that when her sister goes to Italy on holiday, leaving her alone, she loses her lifeline on which to grasp for human contact. Her isolation is so intense that other people become a threat. Those who are a menace to her, such as her landlord, are treated in the same manner as those who wish her well, such as her boy friend. She can no longer tell the difference. The madness in her mind is made manifest on the screen: Huge cracks appear in the wall symbolising the cracks appearing in her mind. Hands come out of the wall and touch her. Her nightmares torment her with physical contact of men, the one thing that horrifies her, and which are made utterly believable by the vagueness of the camerawork and the silence on the soundtrack-how very much like a real nightmare. The structure of the film is marvellous, as is the cinematography. There is not a shot or a frame wasted as every scene, every shot, builds up to show Carol's loosening grasp of reality.
One of the greatest films of the 20th Century. On every level, this film not only works, but works brilliantly. Roman Polanski is a genius, and this film is his cinematic masterpiece.
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VINE VOICEon 31 March 2008
This is part of Polanski's trilogy on the horrors of apartment living in the city. Having lived in a very old Paddington flat furnished in the 60s, I found this film full of familiar stuff.

Carol is a French girl living with her sister in South Kensington. Her sister is quite tough, carrying on an affair with a brutish married man, but Carol is very sensitive and troubled. Cracks appearing in the walls, aggressive landlords, food left around the house, the sounds of music, and sexual activity next door. It's all true.

Deneuve is good. The pictures of 60s South Ken are interesting, and the film says something about the isolation you feel in the big city in any era.
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on 12 July 2008
I've seen "Repulsion" quite a few times over the years, and it never gets any less absorbing to watch in spite of knowing the outcome.
Catherine Denueve is incandescently beautiful in it but this all masks her real persona which I guess is shown in the early photograph of her when she was just a child. The rest of her family, involved all together in the event of having their picture taken, but her, aloof, distant, in the background, staring into space, not really wanting to be a part of it. I think this showed a real understanding on the part of the director of the type of personality she had that would later erupt into murderous rage as a result of her paranoia and mental isolation. Sad. Disturbing. And quite possibly one of the most brilliant movies ever made.
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on 12 March 2017
It is fifty two years since "Repulsion" was first released, but time has not
diminished its' unsettling theme. It just goes to show with a decent script and
great actors,how low budget films can become cinematic masterpieces.
Catherine Deneuve's brilliant portrayal of mental decline remains flawless.
Filmed on location in South Kensington, this is the dark side of the 1960s.
The marvellous black and white photography captures Catherine's descent
into shadowy insanity with icy starkness. Her flat strewn with rotting meat
and clothing lying around the floor, is a creepy motif for her state of mind.

The image of Catherine ironing her clothes with an unplugged iron is
equally chilling and pitiful. As the film continues, there is much
worse to come.

As we all know, Polanski's own descent into real life horror would
take place only four years later, but here he was at the top of his
game. A seminal film.
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on 7 May 2014
Made in 1965 Repulsion was Roman Polanski's second feature film after Knife in the Water (1962), and his first made in English. It was also the first of 8 films which he made in collaboration with French writer Gérard Brach. In his autobiography Polanski doesn't have much time for the film, writing it off as technically shoddy, crude, a mere money-spinner needed to fund his (and Brach's) real labor of love, the following Cul-de-sac (1966). Posterity has treated Repulsion rather differently. It is now rated as one of his best works and though he made films on a similar level of achievement (Rosemary's Baby [1968] and Chinatown [1974] as well as the two afore-mentioned films), for me he has never made anything better. The same can be said for Catherine Deneuve who gives here one of the three superb performances (the others being in Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg [1964] and Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour [1967]) that define her career.

The repulsion of the title refers to the feeling felt by the film's heroine, Belgian manicurist Carol Ledoux (Deneuve) towards all men. She (and Polanski/Brach) defines the male species purely by their predatory sexual instincts. The repulsion also refers to the feeling felt by men who are finally rebuffed by the woman's frigidity. Commentators disagree about the film's central thrust. Is it a straightforward horror shocker cashing in on Hitchcock's Psycho (1960)? Is it a sophisticated study of schizophrenia? Is it a clinical documentation of the slide of a vulnerable woman from neurosis into psychosis? Is it a study of society's cold uncaring treatment of a woman in the swinging `60s who refuses to `swing' along with everyone else? Or is it simply an exercise in gratuitous if terrifyingly effective claustrophobic style? There are elements of truth in all of these. The one thing we should grasp though is that Carol was already disturbed when she was a child as shown by the family photograph which the film closes on. The last line of the script refers to "her beautiful and proud, implacably vague child's eye, where madness had already gained the day". This is the same eye over which the opening credits are displayed 105 minutes earlier. The film charts no descent into madness - the girl is `mad' from start to finish. A change in external circumstances simply reveals what was there all along.

We are encouraged to speculate on the reasons for her madness. Was she molested by her father as a child? Her flat-mate sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) could provide an answer, but doesn't. The way she leaves Carol alone in the flat while she goes off to Italy on a fling with married boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) suggests she is unaware of her sister's fragile psychological condition. Or is she? Perhaps she is being callous in knowingly inflicting cruelty onto her. This is brought out most strongly in the bedroom scene where Carol has to listen to her sister rising to orgasm in the next room, not one but two nights in a row. This was the first time the British censor passed a woman's orgasm uncut (it is heard, not seen) and would have shocked contemporary audiences. Sibling rivalry is expertly explored in the early stages of the screenplay as Helen voices her resentment at Carol's refusal to allow any sign of her boyfriend to contaminate the flat. It is not beyond believability that Helen exaggerates her coital moaning to put one over on her virginal sister.

Another intriguing possible explanation of Carol's `madness' is offered by the film's opening images. After the credits play against a huge close-up of her eye (shades of Vertigo here as well as Psycho!) we see another close-up, this time a side view of a woman's head lying on a bed. Her face is covered in white which seems to be a death mask in the process of the making. The camera moves back to reveal a woman (who turns out to be Carol) holding the hand of the `corpse', bending over it in the attitude of prayer. It is the classic pose of bereavement. The `corpse' moves and suddenly we realize we are in a beauty salon and the `death mask' is actually a facial being administered to a customer and that Carol is merely preparing to manicure her nails. And yet, we are left inquiring. Does this opening refer back to the loss of Carol's mother? Could the catholic tradition of creating a death mask refer to some kind of trauma suffered by Carol in childhood related to her mother's passing? I wouldn't dwell on this so strongly if it weren't for the fact that the girl's Kensington flat is located next to a convent and in a few scenes Carol is shown looking at the nuns playing in the garden (does she envy them their `freedom' to enjoy their faith protected from the lechery of men?) and the bell from the convent is one of the most important of the external sounds Polanski uses to heighten the claustrophobic tension of the flat throughout the film. In a strange way the bell seems to order the day, not only of the convent, but of the flat as well. Then there is the way Carol assaults Colin (John Fraser) with a devotional candlestick which wouldn't look out of place atop a church altar. Is Carol's psychosis induced by society's refusal to accept her desire to be a proper little catholic girl? Why can't Helen be a proper catholic `sister' to her like the sisters living next door? They seem to be happier than normal women on the streets who have to put up with macho leering at every turn.

It is to the film's great strength that Carol's madness is never explained clearly. Following Robert Bresson's dictum, Polanski clearly feels that nothing he can show can possibly compare with what the audience can imagine for themselves. Best to hint and suggest and let audiences imagine the very worst that may have happened to Carol in the past. This also goes for the way Polanski treats the mise-en-scène. With truly outstanding (BAFTA-winning) camerawork by Gilbert Taylor, Polanski makes the flat gradually resemble the inner workings of Carol's malfunctioning mind. He plays with point of view so that we are never sure if what we are seeing is from our point of view or from the girl's. I won't go into detail and spoil it for those who have yet to experience this film, but the use of wide angle lenses, handheld camera, shadow and light, predominantly low camera angles which exaggerate walls and ceilings bearing down, carefully placed props (a rotting rabbit, potatoes going to seed, a wardrobe blocking a doorway, Michael's shaving kit left in the bathroom, especially the phallic cut-throat razor) is truly masterly. Ditto the extraordinary use of external noises, the various bells with their different intrusive meanings (the door bell, the telephone ringing, the convent bell), somebody somewhere practicing demented scales on an off-key piano, the ticking of a clock. Even as the most hideous events unfold, Polanski reverts to almost silent film technique to take us to an extraordinary place which is always somehow `other'. Watched for the first time the film is a terrifying experience. Watched for the first time in well over 20 years, it reawakened for me the possibilities of what cinema is capable of doing when used intelligently.

With this film much has been made elsewhere of Polanski's debt to early German expressionist cinema (films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari [1919, Robert Weine] and M [1931, Fritz Lang]), the bath scene of Les Diaboliques (1954, Henri-Georges Clouzot) as well as to the Hitchcock of not only Psycho and Vertigo, but also of The Wrong Man (1956) in which Vera Miles plays another neurotic woman cracking up because of society's pressures in one of Hitch's most overtly `catholic' films. I would also point out the contemporary influence of Ingmar Bergman (especially the Faith Trilogy) and the surrealism of Buñuel in particular as being important here - not only Un Chien Andalou (1928), but also later `neorealist' films such as Los Olvidados (1950) and El Bruto (1952) which feature strikingly similar `dream' imagery. There are also Polanski's own bizarre surrealist short films (such as A Murderer [1955], A Toothful Smile [1957], Break up the Dance [1957] and Two Men and a Wardrobe [1958]) which demonstrate his extraordinary talent at eking out eerie claustrophobic narratives played out in creepy dark spaces as being unique to him. There's no questioning Repulsion's influence on film making, its effects still being felt today in the films of Darren Aronofsky (π [1998] and Black Swan [2010]) to take one example. Rarely however, has the success of the film been replicated. Even Polanski himself struggled to attain the same extraordinary level of intensity in his other 'apartment films' (Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant [1976]). It's difficult to imagine a more effective and more influential psychological horror film than Polanski's splendidly creepy masterpiece. Marvelous mise-en-scène is harnessed to a wonderfully vulnerable central performance to make for fantastic cinema. To anyone interested in modern film this is a definite must buy. All early Polanski is mandatory viewing, but if I were to select one film above all others, Repulsion would be it. It appears on many people's Top 100 lists of best films ever made, mine included.

Potential buyers should note that the film can be bought in a variety of presentations. I am reviewing a Japanese region 2 NTSC disc which comes with no extras at all. It was extremely cheap, the print beautifully clear (wide screen) and the mono sound very good for the period. The best available version would appear to be the Criterion region 1 NTSC release which comes with documentaries and a Polanski commentary, but it's expensive. I would also consider the 4 DVD set which sets Repulsion alongside Knife in the Water, Cul-de-sac and a selection of short films which convey much the same dark, creepy absurdist flavor of this extremely talented director. This would appear to be ideal, but unfortunately I see that too is also expensive at the moment (Amazon want ₤50 for it!). Obviously you will have to shop around.
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As you've probably gathered most of the reviews are for the 'DVD' version of the 1965 Polanski cult movie “Repulsion”. And the 'BLU RAY' is available in the States and France. But which issue do you buy if you live in Blighty?

Unfortunately the desirable USA Criterion release is REGION-A LOCKED - although it doesn't say so on Amazon.
So it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK BLU RAY players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't).
Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help.

Luckily the French release (with foreign language all over the rear of the box) is REGION B - so that will play the Catherine Deneuve film on UK machines (its said to have a great transfer).

Check you’re player’s region coding acceptability if you want the pricier Criterion release (which is said to have a stunning transfer)...
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on 1 August 2012
I had high expectations of this film and I must say I was a little disappointed. It is definitely of its time, when the issues explored in this film could only be explored in the most simple and shocking manner. For me, there wasn't enough character exploration; especially of the central character. All we seemed to get was some pretty Belgian sweety who bumbled around the screen being awkward and alluring, before all of a sudden she starts having crazy (yet undeniably impressive) visions and starts killing men. She was just a bit two dimensional for me and more psychology would have been nice, not necessarily a complete explanation of her motives. Nevertheless, this is still an inventive and slightly frightening film and well worth a watch, maybe just for a scare and a laugh. There are some great scenes, such as the tense interaction between the main character and a landlord which just keeps you wondering what's going to happen next. However, even though this film was directed by the great Polanski, it just needed that little bit more.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 22 November 2008
Even on her good days, Carol lives on the edge of sanity; she stares endlessly at sidewalks cracks, feels things crawling on her body, and doesn't respond to people. But when her sister leaves her alone for two weeks, Carol loses her grip on reality and goes completely mad.

Roman Polanski's first English language film is almost a silent movie with just a bit of dialogue. The action is mostly in Carol's mind, as she sees, hears, and feels the things that go bump in the night, fears many have felt at one time or another, but she loses herself in her horror. Twenty-two year old Catherine Deneuve also made her English language debut in the film and gives a stunning performance. Her fragile beauty contrasts with the ugliness and brutality of her hallucinations and the audience is swept along on her journey.

This is not a movie to watch at night if you're afraid of the dark or of being alone. A very effective thriller.
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