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A Belgian girl, Carol, works as a manicurist at a London beauty salon. While having lunch, a good looking young man, Colin, spots her and makes a date for another evening. She shares a flat with her sister Helen. Her sister's married lover, Michael, brings out her dislike of men which she cannot explain to Colin. Michael takes Helen abroad for a holiday. Left alone in their flat, Carol's moments of catalepsy and hallucination increase and deepen into madness. Written by
Extremely shocking if you consider the time it was filmed!
Carole, a beautiful, young, unusually shy, fragile, foreigner, works in a beauty salon and lives with her older sister Helene in London. Her behavior at first seems "faintly strange" and distant, but it appears like this is normal for everyone around her. Soon we realize she is antisocial and has a psycho-pathological fear of males and sex. When Helene leaves for a trip with her lover, Carole isolates herself in her sister's apartment and surrenders to her morbid fantasies that lead her down a path of hallucinations all the way to murder.
Polanski uses "the world outside" in a clever way, to give us the whole parameter that helps bring about Carole's downfall. The social alienation a foreigner feels, the domination games and the self-interest of the people close to her. The men that approach her together with her own sexual fears, are all catalysts. They create the image of a threatening world and her helpless existence in it, as seen from inside her already troubled mind. Then begins a very true, detailed description of her problematic mind that slowly worsens into madness. Done in a natural and simple way and perhaps that is what makes it so haunting.
The first part is purposely slow. A moment-to-moment reality that builds up tension and soon gives way to a nightmarish world. We watch as everyday reality transforms into a closed-door hell and as Carole transforms from "strange" into a clinical psychopath. The house becomes a character, its dimensions distorted and Carole is left there, to wander in it alone, with the house and the objects acting as symbols to portray exactly what is going on inside her head. (Everything symbolizes Carole's mental decline in parallel). Space becomes distorted. Time becomes distorted. She becomes distorted.
The black and white makes you focus exactly where the director wanted and the visual effects are very limited compared to todays psychological thrillers. Here, the girl and the apartment are enough. The violence is not graphic it is psychological. Polanski's expert use of sound, sets, camera angles and framing all play a great role in creating the horror atmosphere.
Deneuve is Fantastic! In a very difficult part (if you consider she plays alone and without dialogue most of the time) delivering an extremely complex role (her best performance to date) perfectly!! People have rushed to say she was "flat" but in this specific film, I believe that was the intention. The MIND is the protagonist here; she is only the vehicle where the mind lives. Her "underplaying" helps the viewer focus on what is happening inside her head, makes you follow her and go through the experience with her. If one decides to watch this film and not experience it, then yes, she looks hypnotized.
By the time Helene and her boyfriend return, the viewer is just as shocked to have seen what the couple finds there. It is heartbreaking. The very last scene then finishes you off, perhaps giving the biggest clue. Revealing a secret as to why this has happened. And the way this scene is filmed leaves you with a chill in the spine. I became even more disturbed well after the movie was over and my thoughts had settled down. This is why I call this film an "experience".
I think that some factors always needed when putting a "value" on films are often overlooked. Things like: Time of release, Level of difficulty in achievement of the story itself and Level of difficulty because of the budget or the country of production. Based on these, I think that Polanski has created masterwork. It could be considered very slow, especially for today's viewers. And for others it could even be considered a claustrophobic hell. In respecting everyone's personal opinions I would only recommend this to a specific audience and specific friends. Mostly ones who want to concentrate and allow themselves to be taken in by this type of film. For them, I am sure the experience will be rewarding.
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