Sunday, October 4, 2009


Well here I was all set to be avoid the Polanski controversy. I didn’t want to write anything because there is literally nothing that you can write about Polanski without pissing someone off. Even simple objective statements like, “Roman Polanksi was in Rush Hour 3” will send people into a foaming rage, though that could be a reaction to the fact that there is a Rush Hour 3. Then I realized that I’d never seen Repulsion. Which is of course unacceptable. Sigh.

So let’s get this out of the way. Polanski’s actions were inexcusable and sickening. No amount of tragedy in his past can excuse what he did. But, and this is a big but, arguing that the man is not one of the most significant artists to work in film in the modern age is just silly. And that’s not saying it excuses him. Nothing can excuse him. That’s not saying he’s tortured so it’s OK, or he’s made up for it. No it’s just a simple statement of fact.

Roman Polanski did something monstrous. Roman Polanski is an amazing artist. These two concepts do not negate each other.

Seen in the light of the recent development in his case Repulsion is even more facilitating. Now it reads like a work of self loathing, the rape scenes that Deneuve constantly hallucinates are some of the ugliest put on film. The movie is about as flattering to male sexuality as Schindler’s List was to the Nazis. And it’s not like the men are pigs either, Of the three men who ultimately drive Catherine Deneuve over the edge only her landlord is a true oinker. Her over eager suitor and her sister’s boorish girlfriend are both flawed but ultimately decent people. Polanski seems to be saying that the whole process of sexuality is toxic. Repulsion is simply one of the most unsettling movies ever made.

Repulsion’s story is about as simple as it gets. A fragile girl is left alone while her sister and her sister’s boyfriend go on a vacation. She proceeds to barricade herself in their apartment and completely lose her mind. The thing that makes Repulsion special, is how clearly we understand how she comes to this point. The effortless way that Polanski, with of course invaluable help from Catherine Denenuve in an amazing performance, puts us inside this damaged girl’s head.

From the first shot it’s clear that things are going to go very wrong. It’s a seemingly endless close up of Denevenue’s eye which the credit’s slide across. It’s an disconcerting way to start the movie, and by the time Polanski’s credit appears and performs a ghoulish tribute to Un Chien Andalou the audience is thoroughly unsettled.

Nothing much really happens for the first hour or so. Denevue simply goes about her day. Firmly inside Denevue’s head, everything is turned up one notch too many, everything is too bright, every sound too abrasive, every face too grotesque, every conversation too demanding, nobody seems to realize how odd everything is. What do all these boys want? Look at the musicians on the street what are they doing? Why walk in that shuffling crouch clacking spoons together? Why doesn’t anyone notice? Why it’s enough to drive you crazy.

And when her sanity really does start to fray, brought on by isolation, and a half cooked rotting rabbit, which surely deserves some sort of reward for best performance by a piece of foodstuffs in a horror movie. Denevue’s meltdown is done with such step by step precision that we barely notice it. By the time arms begin emerging from the walls and the ceiling starts to melt it only seems a matter of course.

A lot of horror movies deal with the death of the body. That’s scary. Repulsion deals with the death of the mind. That’s terrifying.

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