Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Halloween Holocaust/SHOCKtober: Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)

Like Lynch's Eraserhead and Kubrick's The Shining, Andrzej Zulawski's Possession is an extraordinary art-horror head-fuck of a film, that dives deep into the abyss, so to speak, fearlessly exploring issues of commitment, family, child-rearing (although this aspect is relatively peripheral here) and, perhaps most crucially, individuality and freedom. It's one of those movies that seems so rich with potential meanings that it can function as a cinematic Rorschach test. As you might expect then, what you bring to it will largely determine what you get out of it. 

Using Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage (1973) as its jumping off point, the film follows the fall-out from a disintegrating marriage, in graphic and unflinching detail. The performances, from Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani, are borderline operatic in their arm waving, teeth gnashing intensity, but still completely believable because of the sheer nerve and presence demonstrated by the pair. Adjani especially, in one of the most astounding performances I've ever seen in a film, period, makes you believe and invest in every moment, no matter how outre the events become.  

Featuring some impressive creature effects from the late Carlo Rambaldi (who designed this tentacled beastie just before going on to create E.T for Spielberg), some singular and philosophically potent dialogue from Zulawski and co-writer Frederic Tuten ("What I miscarried there was Sister Faith, and what is left is Sister Chance. So I had to take care of my faith to protect it" explains Anna to Mark, immediately following her infamous and unforgettably epic subway freak-out) and appropriately chilly, documentary style cinematography from Bruno Nuytten, Possession is an undoubtedly ambiguous affair. One of the things that makes it so fascinating is its mercurial sense of moral relativism, which makes every character shift back and forth between protagonist and antagonist, therefore discouraging a dogmatic reading of events. It's no surprise then that doubles, who seemingly represent their counterparts' shadow sides, are extremely important here. 

The film's ending is especially cryptic, not to mention downright apocalyptic. However, despite the frequently mysterious and multitudinous nature of the narrative, Possession is a surprisingly entertaining (considering how dark and obscure it often gets) and consistently engaging movie that can prove to be (as the best art always is) a deeply rewarding experience for those willing to grapple with its admittedly thorny subject matter.

For some more reviews of today's movie, take a trip to these fine blogs:

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