(1965, Roman Polanski)
“I must get that crack mended”
Now, when I reviewed Rosemary’s Baby, I made it clear that I took issue with the implication that Rosemary’s husband casually stated that he may have raped her in her sleep. A bit of research tells me that director Roman Polanski has a few…issues on this front, having pleaded guilty to the rape of a teenage girl several years later and then fleeing to France to avoid being charged.
And it is for this reason that one of the first notes I wrote down while watching Repulsion was expressing my pending disappointment at Polanski if the lead gets raped. So imagine my reaction when she does; in fact, it’s actually a central aspect of the plot. Something is seriously wrong with Polanski when it comes to women, it seems.
So, Repulsion is about Carole (Catherine Deneuve), a young French woman living in London with her sister. She’s a fairly quiet, reserved sort of woman, and seems a little wary of relationships. When her sister goes on holiday with her boyfriend, this wariness is revealed to be a full-blown pathological fear of men, and isolation of living in the flat alone starts to wear down her psyche, causing her to imagine the apartment shifting its shape and strange men breaking into the house to assault her.
Repulsion is really a film of two halves. The first half is a typical British movie of the 60s. The acting is kind of stiff and vague, and the plot implied rather than explicit. A lot of people talking in pubs and beauty parlours, or while standing near the kitchen sink (this happens so often that these kinds of films are indeed called “kitchen sink dramas”). Details are sparse, and there’s even some script confusion when the sister and her boyfriend are merely leaving for dinner and the sister expresses a desire to see the Tower Of Pisa (in London?). It is, quite frankly, kind of dull.
The second half of the movie is a different animal entirely. As Carole’s androphobia spirals out of control, the movie becomes a strange, tense psychological thriller. The apartment’s corridors extend in length, the walls start sprouting lecherous groping hands and mysterious men start appearing the flat with the sole intention to attack Carole.
It is in this second half of the movie that things really get moving. The movie is genuinely shocking, and I will admit leaping out of my seat when Carole spots a man in the mirror. The imagery is suitably surreal, and the assaults on Carole are disturbing from their general lack of sound. Artistically, Carole’s hallucinations and visible fears are fantastic.
However, unlike Rosemary’s Baby, which was brilliantly vague, blurring the lines between reality and delusion seamlessly, it’s actually really easy to separate Carole’s hallucinations from her reality. None of the rape scenes actually happen, bar the one real attempt later in the film (which she manages to foil rather gruesomely), and the cracking and bending of the apartment is clearly all in her head. While this does make the film accessible, this clear disconnect makes it difficult to feel too terrified by Carole’s plight.
Also, as a psychological analysis of Carole’s extreme fears, the movie is kind of simplistic. The lack of an explicit reason for her condition is reasonable (although one is subtly hinted in the movie’s final shot) but as an analysis of her fears, it’s restricted to a fear of a strange man breaking in and raping her. She doesn’t suffer the same extreme fears while walking in the streets, despite being visibly uncomfortable, and I think it’s a missed opportunity to play this up a little.
I also wasn’t a massive fan of the movie’s soundtrack. There were two tracks in particular that bugged me. The first was an endless pounding that played repetitively over the opening credits and the second was a piano piece that sounded like little more than someone playing through scales really badly. Both of these pieces were irritating instead of suspenseful or terrifying, and I wished it was possible to mute the score at every point they appeared.
But overall, Repulsion was certainly an interesting movie. Incredibly intense at times and provides a few shocks, but it is a little rough around the edges.
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Furneaux, Ian Hendry & John Fraser
Written by Roman Polanski & Gerard Brach (story) and David Stone
Produced by Gene Gutowski
Music by Chico Hamilton
Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor
Edited by Alastair McIntyre
Favourite Scene: The final scene, where Carole’s sister comes home and sees the mess Carole has ended up in.
Scene That Bugged Me: I felt far too uncomfortable during the scene where the landlord comes to visit. It felt somewhat unrealistic
Watch it if: You like weird psychological thrillers
Avoid it if: Polanski’s attitude towards women irks you in some way