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Genre: Drama Thriller (UK)
Starring: Catherine Deneuve (Dancer in the Dark • The Hunger)
Directed By: Roman Polanski (The Pianist • Rosemary's Baby)
Overview: A young, sexually repressed manicurist slowly slips into madness while her sister is away.
Almost Horror, almost Slasher, pretty much Avant-Garde and definitely streaked in Film-Noir visuals and themes, Polanski's Repulsion is hard to categorize. But somehow those are often my favourite subjects in film.
In brief, this is the story of how a French woman living with her sister in England deals with her everyday life and how that life tilts towards a slippery slope into drooling insanity when her sister leaves on vacation with her married boyfriend.
From the start it's easy to see how little regard Carole (Deneuve) has for men. Our experience of her misandry begins with the married man her sister is dating and his disregard for Carole's space and continues with her aloof attitude towards a young suitor, and we find that these things - men that is - add up to a rather deep neurosis for Carol, hence the title. When her sister leaves, things begin to fall apart for our young protagonist, and we watch the poor girl mentally rot like the symbolic plate of uncooked rabbit left out in the living room. As psychological thrillers go, the mystery of how far this will get is most certainly captivating, though the film's pacing can drag on at times.
At the same time, I believe the reason the action takes so long to reach proportions of burgeoning madness is to show how close we all are to it, how we truly find it difficult to see that distinct moment when madness clicks in others, even in Carole's case, whom we study so closely.
What is most interesting about this film is not the excellent performances nor the story itself, but the uniqueness of Polanski's shooting style. He turns the apartment Carole lives in into a prison for her mind, with sounds of the everyday, like taps and creaks turning haunting, with walls cracking out the corner of her eye, with a descent so masterfully captured visually that this film transcended the exploitive horror house double-feature it could have easily become.
Polanski's cinematographer Gilbert Taylor indeed has a few little art house films under his belt too, such as Dr. Strangelove, The Omen and Star Wars. I couldn't think of a finer recipe for success. It's gorgeous.
Overall Rating: 82% (Attractive... In Many Ways)
I found myself going into this one completely blind, knowing nothing about the story, and only a few things about director Roman Polanski himself - finding very interesting the parallel streak of foreshadowing into his future behaviours...
Another trivia factoid: Repulsion was the first film where the British Board of Film Censors passed the depiction of a female orgasm (just sound).