Thursday, 20 January 2011

Repulsion (1965)

Fig. 1

Directed by Roman Polansky, who co-wrote the original screenplay with Gerard Brach, this film charts the mental disintegration of a young belgian woman in 1960s london.  Carole (Catherine Deneuve) works as a beautician while living in a flat that she shares with her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) who is having an affair with a married man.  When Helen and her boyfriend leave her alone for a week while they go on holiday to italy, Carole withdraws into herself, trapped by the horrors conjured up by her subconscious and graphically depicted on screen.
As reviewer Rob Vaux notes, "(the films)...ability to conjure monsters from its heroine's id remains unparalleled. Deneuve's Carole Ledoux lives life as a frightened mouse, despite the fact that she has nothing truly to fear." (Vaux, 2009).  The audience jumps every time the flat literally disentegrates around her, worrying creaking sounds preceding the appearance of huge cracks in the walls that grow before Carole's trembling eyes and yet vanish with a sudden cut of the camera.
Fig 2
These illusory cracks are not the only device used by Polanski to convey the mental state of Carole.  As her psychosis deepens the appartment's geometry changes from moment to moment, rooms growing to unnatural size leaving Carole and the furniture isolated in the middle of the room.  An interesting interpretation of the use of these visual "tricks" can be found in Samuel Wilson's review, in which he draws parallels with the tradition of "sight gags" in comedy films (Wilson, 2009).  As the film's poster states, "This is not a dream.  THIS IS REALITY!", and within this reality the joke ceases to be funny and becomes instead a macabre horror.  At the same time, the watcher is unable to be sure what is literally real and what is part of Carole's psychosis, at least until Helen and her boyfriend return from their holiday.
The film also makes use of Carole's conflicted attitudes to sex (which the ending seems to suggest is a result of childhood abuse), with her "deeply attracted to the thought of men but at the same time loathing the thought of them."  (Variety, 1964)  Several of her delusions have an overtly sexual theme, from the imaginary rapist to the iconic "corridor of groping hands" (fig 3)
Fig. 3

Overall, the film is notable for its literal depiction of hallucinations, a technique that continues to be used to this day, as well as the technique of actually changing the geometry of the set in order to convey changes in the psychological state of the characters.

List of Illustrations
Figure 1.  Compton Teckli-Film Produtions Ltd. (org) (1965) "Repulsion" Theatrical Poster [digital image] At: (accessed on 28/12/10)

Figure 2.  Compton Teckli-Film Produtions Ltd. (org) (1965) "Repulsion" [film still] At: (accessed on 30/12/10)

Figure 3.  Compton Teckli-Film Produtions Ltd. (org) (1965) "Repulsion" [film still] At: (accessed on 1/1/11)

Variety Staff (1964) Repulsion In Variety [Online] At: (accessed on 1/1/11)

Vaux, R (2009) Repulsion In: [Online] At: (accessed on 28/12/10)

Wilson, S (2009) Repulsion (1965) In: Mondo 70: A Wild World of Cinema [Online] At: (accessed on 30/12/10)

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