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During a secretive business trip away, Mark learns that his wife Anna is growing restless in what he believed was their happy marriage. Upon his return home, he learns from her that she wants a divorce. They both go through a series of different emotions related to their situation, Mark's which is generally obsessive about learning why Anna, who he still loves, wants the divorce, and Anna's which is generally increasingly histrionic in getting away from Mark. Caught in the middle is their infant son Bob, who Mark uses as a gage to Anna's mental state. Anna states that her want for the divorce is not because of another man, but Mark finds out that Anna has a lover named Heinrich. In the meantime, Mark also meets Bob's teacher Helen, who looks exactly like Anna, but is her polar opposite in temperament. Starting a relationship with Helen lessens his obsession with Anna. But as Mark and Anna's encounters together reach more emotional and violent levels, Mark, with help of a private ... Written by
This film doesn't do anything in halves, it doesn't abide by the mock humility of an understated/minimalist film that says "I am important but I'm not gonna show it to you". I generally love overstated/baroque movies as much as I like overactors (Kinski, Bette Davies, Nic Cage) but Possession goes beyond Gothic, it flaunts itself in violent anarchy even when it knows it's not being important. It's a movie in a constant state of violent flux, a chaotic maelstrom of emotion threatening to rip apart at the seams by force of its own negativity, an excess of emotion and abundance of expression. I don't know what Zulawski is trying to say through the film about his own divorce from wife and country and political system, like Eraserhead it's something so personal that it pierces through bottoms of the soul to come out at the other end and speak for things that touch all of us.
Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani see their marriage come crashing down and the film is not merely the death and burial but the wake before and the mourning after. I don't like how Zulawski uses Isabelle Adjani to play different characters very calculated to be different sides of the same person, but then again I don't like movies that do that, it's like a very easy way to a quick symbolism (Ashes of Time, another film I saw recently, does that too). And I don't like who the monster turns out to be, for the same reason, and also because the monster, bloody and deformed, is a better parable of all the bile and hatred and oppressed furious anger felt the character who nurses it to life. The symbolism is too clear almost.
But the rest of the film you watch in stupefied silence. Possession is like a woman in the grip of hysterics running around an apartment tossing and breaking things and cutting herself up with a meat knife, arms flailing like an armature of a tentacled beast ready to tear itself out from a human body.
What Zulawski does here is perfectly illustrated in one scene: the couple have one of their terrible rows in the apartment, the woman storms out, music cue plays then stops, and we get the impression the scene has played out, we expect the cut. But then Zulawski has the camera track behind the man as he chases the woman down the stairs of their apartment and out in the street, pulling at each other and yelling in the middle of an empty intersection, then a truck carrying beatup cars comes rolling by, cars falling crashing down from it. Like the wail of a banshee, Possession is demented and frightful.
It's a movie that doesn't happen in the same place as other movies. Sometimes it gets hard for me for example to differentiate the look and feel of one noir from the other, one NYC crime flick from the other. Like Don't Look Now with its Venetian labyrinths, this has a sense of place and a malevolent presence in that place. It happens in that part of the city where other movies don't know how to go, the streets are different, the buildings and apartments look curiously different, and when an apartment catches on fire, there's a strange old woman down in the street corner yelling things about God ("giving the light clear, getting it back dirty") and cackling maniacally as though an end to the world is very close at hand.
Both Sam Neil and Isabelle Adjani give performances of a lifetime. Neil is going through the motions though, except for his 'going mad in a hotel room' scene in the beginning, his madness is external, pantomimed. Isabelle Adjani lives it though, feels and breathes it. She gives perhaps the most outstanding female performance I have ever seen. Her scene in the subway station, all spasmodic intensity and wordless cries, affected me physically like no other, at once monstrous and immensely sad.
This movie is a nervous breakdown and an agnostic lament against an absent indifferent God captured on celluloid. The tagline for the American release reads "She made a monster her secret lover", but this is not that type of film. This is like few films ever made, before or after, and is done with the ferocity of someone going mad in four walls, now perhaps clawing at the walls with blood and bile and staring at his designs as though there might be pattern and order there.
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