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Roman Polanski's movies divide movie fans. Even admirers of his output will single out a particular movie that just doesn't work for them (in my case it's 'The Fearless Vampire Killers', which for me is an utter waste of time). But I would bet that virtually every Polanski buff would list 'Repulsion' as one of his very best movies. It's a brilliant exercise in unease and paranoia that has lost none of its power of the years. It is still one of the most disturbing movies ever made, and manages to evoke an atmosphere filled with dread and fear without resorting to obvious shock tactics. Catherine Deneuve is perfect as a beautiful and disturbed girl slowly lost to delusion and phobia. This is arguably her most memorable role along with Bunuel's equally brilliant 'Belle De Jeur'. The rest of the cast is interesting, and includes Yvonne Furneaux ('La Dolce Vita'), underrated Brit character actor Ian Hendry ('The Hill', 'Theatre Of Blood', 'Get Carter'), John Fraser ('The Trials Of Oscar Wilde'), and Patrick Wymark ('The Conqueror Worm', and Hendry's co-star in the fascinating but almost forgotten 'Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun'). All the cast are excellent, but Deneuve's unforgettable performance is what really sticks in your mind long after the movie is over. That and Polanski's accomplished and tense direction make this movie essential viewing for all movie buffs. One of the most important and impressive movies of the 1960s, and one of the most chilling horror movies ever made.
"Repulsion" is a great example of how to make a truly scary movie: The
trick is not to fill the screen with monsters or indestructible serial
killers, it is to portray fear in a way that will be familiar to the
audience. It is clear from early on in the film that the lead character,
Carol, played brilliantly by an extremely young-looking Catherine Deneuve,
is not exactly normal. When her sister leaves her alone in their shared
London apartment for a few days, however, the things that scare Carol are
the sorts of things that have scared a lot of people spending the night
alone, such as hearing (imagined) footsteps in the hallway and the like. Of
course, while normal people get a brief fright from such a thing, Carol
descends into a madness of hallucinations. The movie is seen almost
entirely from her point of view, using techniques borrowed by later
directors such as Darren Aronofsky for his movie, "Pi", which gives the
entire movie a claustrophobic feeling that enhances the impact of Carol's
There are no doubt people who would like to explicate this film as an exploration of sexual repression or the like, and perhaps they are indeed hitting the mark in doing so, but this film works brilliantly as pure cinema, with no metaphoric subtext needed.
Overall Rating: 4 stars (out of 4), or 9 (out of 10)
This film, the first Polanski made in English, works so well, and for so
many different reasons, that I felt like I had to watch it again as soon as
From the first moments of the movie, Polanski sets up the key conflict, cutting between shots of Catherine Denuve's gorgeous face and of the things she is seeing, all of which are almost frighteningly ugly by comparison. After fifteen minutes of this, it becomes clear why Denuve's Carol is unable to cope with anything in the world around her, and why she is so dependent on her sister and her attractive female co-worker, who provide the film's only beauty other than Denuve. When her sister leaves her alone, her surroundings decay further into ugliness, sending her deeper into her madness. I loved the way that despite Carol's growing insanity, Polanski keeps going back to closeups of her face, which remains beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that no one can seem to notice that she is clearly very deranged.
The only question the film left me with is this: How could Carol possibly survived for an entire lifetime up till the point where the film began?
In "Repulsion" the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve suffers from an industrial-strength case of sexual repression, coupled with a hefty dose of sibling rivalry which foists upon her a succession of rape fantasies and delusional hallucinations. Polanski's direction is unparalleled as he elicits a creepy terror through the use of some fairly unconventional special-effects. The subjective world created for the heroine is a series of dreams and visions of a decaying apartment and psycho-sexual fantasy and this is what the film seems to be about. The cracking walls are perhaps one of the most ingeniously horrifying special-effects in cinematic history. The lack of dialogue that runs throughout complements the restrained narrative design as the neurotic obsessions remain largely unexplained. But for better or for worse, I think better, Polanski's final frame settles on an image which cryptically resolves the entire enigma with a kind of devastating efficiency. All in all, one of the great films of the 1960s.
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.
Sometimes not saying anything in a horror movie, and letting a
character lose his/her mind in a setting can really get the goosebumps
going, more so than with the recent 'shockers' of late that all seem to
take place within a haunted house or have some kind of ghostly secret.
The most frightening thing about Repulsion, Roman Polanski's first film
in English (and filmed in England) is that everything that can terrify
the audience is within the lead character's mind. In this case, the
young Catherine Deneuve plays Carole, a part-time manicurist who spends
most of her time inside of her apartment she shares with her sister.
Polanski piles on the atmosphere like fudge on a sundae- we literally
get thrust inside of her mind as she goes into this down-ward spiral.
It would be one thing if the film was a great success just because of Polanski's tricks with adding true fear into the audience, but Deneuve is a big factor in this too. It may be a triumph of under-acting, or even over-acting from a point of view. All through the movie she plays her paranoia and sexual frustration (if not repression) almost like a kind of doll, following orders we can't quite understand. Sometimes she interacts or sees things that are strange (i.e. a cooked and eaten rabbit; the cracks in the walls springing up), but then as the film winds into its climax, she becomes perfected into this kind of traumatized, crazed creature. She is a beautiful person who plays a not too beautiful being, but she somehow pulls it off, even better than in her role in Belle du Jour. Bottom line, if you're tired of getting disappointed with the latest horror films where unexplained phenomena in a house terrorize its main character(s), take a look at this film and see if it will leave you when you're finished with it. A+
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A close-up of an eye frames the beginning and the ending of Roman
Polanski's psychological horror classic REPULSION. The owner of this
eye is Carole Ledoux, one of cinema's most unsettling heroines, who is
about to -- in the next 100 minutes -- undergo a complete personality
transformation from a soft-spoken ingenue to a catatonic madwoman who
actually anticipates her own imagined rape.
The choice to use Catherine Deneuve must have been a stroke of casting brilliance (even though the expression is dated and cliché) because her pale features, blond hair, and overall simpering body language make her an ideal for a young woman about to snap at any moment. Her Carole Ledoux is a obsessive compulsive woman who can't stand to see dust over a chair, much less the kiss of another man.
She receives no help from her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). A woman as outgoing as she is withdrawn, there is an implied notion that Helen would rather be living alone than with her sister Carole. It makes me wonder how much of Carole's eventual madness would her character be aware of, but then again, she is into her own life, so that would be unlikely.
The only person who seems to want to help Carole, who senses there is something wrong with her and is resolved to be with her despite anything is Colin (John Fraser), but she is too immersed in her own crumbling mind to notice. It's not a help that it ends badly and he winds up in her bathtub which she's already filled with water -- why, we never know. Once he's gone, her mind is free to devolve into its chaos, and this chaos is able to finally conquer her until she is in a catatonic haze.
Why do people go mad? There is no true explanation for it. There are people who doubt Carole's unraveling mind would have taken place in the way it does, but this is exactly what happens, not just in this movie, but in usual circumstances.
Polanski is excellent in establishing her progressive mental decay: she listens to a couple make love through the walls of her apartment -- itself enhancing her own repressed sexuality, a very striking moment of eroticism. She begins acting oddly not only at home, but at work, even while walking down the street. Polanski uses some experimental jazz to manifest her mind spinning out of control much in the way he used it in some of the more nerve wracking sequences of ROSEMARY'S BABY. About forty-five minutes into the movie -- roughly halfway -- we're treated to a blink or miss image of a man standing opposite from Carole, reflected in her closet mirror. It's a powerful moment and one that didn't need the shocks used today to make me jump out of my seat. Using odd camera angles, photographing people in extreme upside down closeups, and showing increasingly imagined scenes of rape, Polanski creates a hellish scenario where a woman's mind is torn to pieces, and where we can't do anything to stop it but watch. It does add to Deneuve's powerhouse performance that much of her time on screen is spent nearly mute and by herself. Terror, because of this, becomes an internalized experienced that only becomes external through the set the apartment was modeled on and Deneuve's extreme acting, which is a revelation. The mundane, even the trivial, does a 180 degree turn and becomes chaotic, a reflection of reality gone to hell, and a beautiful woman turned inside-out due to her repressed feelings directed towards her father, who at that last haunting shot of the family portrait looks a little like the rapist -- disclosing the root of her intability and her hatred/desire of men.
REPULSION is a groundbreaking horror film that has become more relevant in recent times with the advance of psychology. Eschewing ghosts for shadows and surreal settings, its influence can be seen in the more harrowing moments of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM where Sarah Goldfarb is stalked by her own crumbling mind in her own apartment and a refrigerator suddenly turns homicidal.
This is the most effective movie ever made. It's about a sexually repressed woman who is left alone in her apartment for the weekend, and then suffers a series of bizarre and disturbing hallucinations. Catherine Deneuve gives a nerve-racking performance in this heart stopping movie. This is a true horror movie, with a fear that is beyond our imagination. Roman Polanski executes this movie perfectly, the music is effective, the black and white cinematography disturbing, the hallucination scenes frightening. It's disturbing as hell, and it's one of the best movies I've ever seen. 10/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Carole Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve) is a sexually repressed and schizophrenic
young woman, living in a small apartment with her sister Héléne (Yvonne
Fourneaux). Héléne has a lover, and spends a couple of days travelling with
him. Carole stays alone in the apartment, and becomes insane, having violent
hallucinations of rape and murder. This sick movie has an outstanding
performance of Catherine Deneuve, one of the most beautiful women in the
world, in the beginning of her career. The direction and black and white
photography are stunning for a low budget movie. The story is very slow,
disturbing, claustrophobic and morbid, and recommended for very specific
audience. In my point of view, in the end, there is a hint regarding the
reasons of the problems of Carole with her sexuality, when the camera comes
closer to a picture of her family and she is looking fiercely to her father.
My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): `Repulsa ao Sexo' (`Repulse to Sex')
Recently, I viewed Roman Polanski's feature-film debut, "Knife in the
Water," and found it to be a well-done effort that would foreshadow his
later, better works. "Repulsion" came 3 years later, and while a fine
film on a purely technical level, its psycho-mindf*ck ambitions are
shredded to pulp by the time the film reaches its close, leaving the
viewer cold and unfulfilled. While containing some incisive, veiled
sentiments on how the male and female gender perceive each other, from
aggression and fear, to promiscuity and perversion, "Repulsion"
ultimately becomes overshadowed by artistic pretension and symbolism.
The surreal plot follows a remote young hairstylist (Catherine Deneuve) who doesn't say much, and finds herself in perpetual fear of the opposite sex (solidified in the presence of an inexplicable stranger who 'rapes' her in the middle of the night); her paranoia and insecurity only worsens when her sister takes a vacation with her lover, and things quite literally begin to fall apart.
What's unfortunate about "Repulsion" is that Polanski doesn't stick the knife in far enough...a few years later, he would do a superior study of patriarchal politics (with demonic overtones) in "Rosemary's Baby," and even later still, an impressive meditation on claustrophobic madness with "The Tenant". Both of these films combine the best elements of "Repulsion" into more satisfying wholes that one would be better off seeking them out instead.
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