Sunday, April 22, 2007

Review of Possession (1981)

Sometimes it can be quite difficult to review a film that is very close to your heart. One must try and separate the nostalgia from the contemporary appeal and the personal reaction from the critical analysis. With “Possession” (1981) it is doubly hard. Until recently is has been both hard to find (the director’s cut Anchor Bay DVD is out of print and relatively rare) and even then it is not exactly easy to watch ("challenging" might be the nice way to put it). Although Mad Dog and my oldest sister share the fervor, this is definitely not a film for all tastes. It's been described as alienating, disturbing, uncomfortable and interminable. These reactions are valid; I suspect they are also intentional.

My goal with this post is to give a review of the film along with a fairly in-depth critical reading centered upon the themes of marital division and sexual confusion. Since this is meant to be readable by both those who have never seen the film and those who have had the honor, I will keep the spoilers to a minimum.

What exactly is “Possession?” It’s an art-film/drama/horror hybrid from Polish exile director Andrzej Zulawski made in West Berlin in 1981. It stars Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani. Adjani was in a career slump due to a reputation as ‘difficult to work with,’ but “Possession” earned her a surprise Cesar (French Oscar) and the top acting prize at Cannes. By the decade’s end she’d have three more Cesars, cementing herself as perhaps France's most lauded actress. Watching her committed performance, far outside the boundaries of where most actors dare to venture, it is not hard to see why this was a turning-point in her career.

A plot summary is necessary, yet I don’t want to give certain key elements away. While not necessarily a twist-type movie, there is nothing quite like the shock of seeing “Possession” without knowing the full story.

Mark (Sam Neill) and Anna (Isabelle Adjani) are a married couple already on the brink of divorce as the film begins. Mark returns home after a mysterious trip abroad (we see him being paid with a suitcase of cash by a government organization) only to discover that in his absence Anna has been conducting an affair. Anna’s friend Margie has been taking care of their son, Bob, but refuses to tell Mark the name or address of the interloper. After several fights Mark eventually discovers that an obnoxious ‘guru’ named Heinrich is Anna's secret lover and the two have a confrontation. In a secondary subplot, Mark is also astonished to discover that Bob’s teacher, Helen (also played by Adjani), looks identical to his wife. Soon Anna disappears again and this time even Heinrich doesn’t know where she’s gone. Mark hires a detective to find her and the terrible truth is gradually revealed.

What is missing from any cursory description is the intensity that makes both the drama and horror of this film so evocative. On the drama side, Mark and Anna’s split is represented on several layers. Most overtly is the white hot intensity of the acting, delivered almost entirely in screams and gestures that tear through the actors’ entire body. On a scale from 1 to 10 in acting pitch (not quality), with “Pickpocket” (1959) as a 1, “Goodfellas” (1990) as a 10 and “Lust for Life” (1956) as an 11, then “Possession” rates a 26.

Mark and Anna are shouting at each other by the opening five minutes. After the opening ten they are fighting in public. Within half an hour they are physically beating each other with unrestrained ferocity. The level of frustration, rage and insanity only continues to rise. Zulawski expertly selects props (blanket, electric knife, meat grinder) and actions to augment the performances and add to the anxiety during their sparring matches.

In one surreal sequence we see Anna arguing vehemently while stuffing laundry into the refrigerator. The capstone example is a flashback, possibly the film's most famous scene, with Adjani alone in a subway station carrying groceries. She delivers an uncomfortable, explosive, full-body performance as the consequences of her unhappy marriage overtake her. She undergoes what at first appears to be a seizure, shattering her groceries against the wall and jerking about as though possessed (hence one meaning of the title) in a single, tortuous long take.

Most of the fights occur in the apartment shared by the family. The camera places us directly into these battles, in the awkwardly confrontational situation of a third-person in the room who desperately wants to escape the presence of such seething fury. Few films save Mike Nichol’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966), Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage” (1973) or perhaps the films of John Cassavetes have ever exposed the dark side of relationships turned sour with such brutal intimacy.

The tension and electricity of the performances is inhuman, and it becomes quickly obvious that we are not really watching ‘realistic’ acting, but something far more extreme. Yet despite the excesses on display the camera records the events with unflinching and unflattering coldness. The tone is deadpan serious, and thus hard not to find a bit comical. This had the added advantage of bolstering its cult appeal and allowing interpretations ranging from artistic enjoyment of the authenticity and audacity to amused marvel at the hyperbole. To quote Mad Dog, “Possession is one of the only movies I like genuinely as much as I like ironically.”

[Image: Neill delivers one of the film’s most impossibly sincere lines: “You know what this is for… THE LIES!” before slapping Adjani]

Before ending my discussion of the performances, I must mention the brilliantly, outrageous Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) who plays Adjani’s self-possessed second lover. The director designed him based on every quality he disliked, and Bennent comically recalls every egotistical male who believes he’s reach the pinnacle of sophistication and sex appeal through his own recipe of mysticism, training, drugs and fashion. He makes a sharp third point in the love triangle; his ability to stir hatred a perfect compliment to the couple who never run out of anger to vent.
In terms of style and themes, Zulawski does an excellent job showing the destruction of a relationship through the breakdown of communication. The characters are isolated, inarticulate and unable to make contact with each other either physically (in person, by phone, through others) or emotionally. The marital breakdown is externalized, too, within the setting. Zulawski camera often lingers on the foreboding Berlin Wall, ever present outside the windows. However, whether Zulawski intends the fractured marriage to be a metaphor for the Germany’s political divide or vice versa, remains debatable.

Further, Bruno Nyttan’s cinematography balances the many apartment-bound scenes with a paradoxical combination of division and claustrophobia, often isolating the rival spouses with a shallow depth of field. A crisp close-up on one lead is thematically composed with the other in a deep-staged out-of-focus position. The characters seem to inhabit planes of their own, often further sub-framed apart by doors and other strong verticals (see also the mirror-lined café corner in the second screenshot).

In the film’s latter half, the terrible aftermath of the marital discord earns a final, horrifically potent symbol.

With little space to move around and often little more than bare walls to use as background, Zulawski still endows each set with a unique ambience. The native hues and contrasting palettes of the family’s blue-tinted apartment and Anna’s private yellow apartment creates unsettling atmospheres and oppositions. The director uses his minimalist locales to good effect, but goes beyond the existential emptiness so easily and frequently employed by filmmakers critical of modernity’s sterility. His compositions sustain fear, estrangement, tension and madness with equal adroitness.

For a two-hour Polish art-film about the dissolution of marriage, Zulawski manages an impressive visual dynamism. The camera is constantly moving, although often in unexpected ways. In one transitional shot the camera dollies right to follow Anna as she enters her apartment, but rather than follow her in or cut inside, the director reverses the motion and dollies back to the empty car she arrived in for no apparent narrative purpose. Another scene involves an elliptically rotating crane shot on a hemispherical spiral staircase.

The cuts are nearly exclusively hard and conspicuous, making use of high contrast and unexpected changes in location. Rarely is movement given a clean entrance or clean exit, so the viewer feels forever thrown into the action as it happens and without closure.

The actors are also on the move and not just with the expressive gesticulations mentioned earlier. The staging and blocking shows remarkable finesse, such as one memorable scene in which Anna arrives home to find Mark rocking back and forth in a chair. As they begin to fight, the wide-angle lens exacerbates Mark’s swinging sensation towards and away from the camera. The focus puller struggles to keep up. Again, the audience feels the uncomfortable proximity to the private bickering.

Another example of conspicuous staging is a version of what Giallo Fever lovingly calls “the ‘Tenebre’ shot” after the 1982 giallo that uses it so effectively (although it is not the originator). In such a shot, a character in the foreground moves aside to reveal another character behind them, commonly used to get a quick shock/distress reaction as we realize the killer is about to strike.

Near the end of “Possession” there is a scene where the two leads have sex on the kitchen floor, exchange whispered ravings and then plan a desperate course. The ‘reveal’ occurs after Anna has briefly blocked the door to pick up her purse. Rather than a killer, we see their child, Bob. We still have the shock/distress effect but the reason is more psychologically nuanced. The irresponsibility of the characters’ behavior dawns upon the audience anew. We realize that Bob’s trauma at the hands of these parents (who conduct themselves far outside the limits of social norms or mental sanity) is spreading out waves of further trauma.

In fact, much of the film deviates from conventional depictions and readings of sex and sexuality. Heinrich, for instance, has an unusual relationship with his live-in mother and mentions at one point that he has a previous family that he left behind somewhere. Included in Heinrich’s personal mysticism is a strange pre-occupation with his body. He almost always has his shirts open to reveal his chest and runs his hands over himself as he moves about in a manner reminiscent of bad interpretive dance.

One can read Heinrich as a man more in love with himself than the women who serve as conquests; food for his ego. His fluid, bizarre staging (at one point spinning down a staircase with his hand above his head) and excessive self-love combine briefly with the set design of his own apartment in the scene where Mark fights Heinrich: In the screenshot below, Heinrich is about to kick Mark in the head. Note the strange graphic match with the photo on Heinrich’s wall, neatly referencing his narcissism and obsessive physicality.

Heinrich’s social and sexual deviance from societal norms is fully matched by Anna and Mark, who have numerous issues of their own. Anna’s migration from Mark to Heinrich and beyond shows a search for sexual and emotional fulfillment (explicitly stated at one point) while Mark’s involvement with Anna’s look-alike, Helen, begins to weaken his grip on his own sense of fidelity, relationships and reality.

[Image: Helen, played by Adjani now with green eyes and brown hair]

Like the theme of split relationships, the issue of sexual confusion is not just manifested in the content of the “Possession,” but the form as well. Throughout the first half of the film an atmosphere of tension (sexual and otherwise) pervades the slower moments. At these times, intensity still glows in the eyes of the actors, but no violent physical events provide an outlet for the energy. Deprived of any solid idea on where the film is heading, there is a certain fear that almost any violation of acceptable norms and behaviors might occur on a moments notice. One visual motif that plays upon such tension is an uncomfortable wide-angle arrangement with a character (visible in the background) gripping a naked torso in the foreground.
[Images: How do we read these shots? The backs we see belong to Bob, Anna and Mark (from top to bottom).]

We see this shot three times:
1) When Mark finds his son covered in filth and takes off his shirt to clean him.
2) During a rare moment of marital calm as Mark tenderly puts his naked wife to bed.
3) Before Mark and Anna have feverish sex on the kitchen floor.

The composition seems both sexual and possessive (possibly even violent) although the context varies radically. The repetition of such an unusual camera shot in situations that are difficult to read and harder to predict induces anxiety and ambiguity in the audience as they try to assess the meaning and motivation in the gaze and grip of the characters. In each case there is a loaded anticipation/fear as we await what will happen next. Further complicating our understanding of these moments is the loss of gender specificity from the cropped rear view of the foreground figures.

The audio work also instigates a systematic ambiguity; here between sexual pleasure and pain, a dichotomy that epitomizes the couple’s attraction/repulsion issues. Pleasure and pain is linked through the frequent auditory motif of moaning. In one of the first instances we discover Anna is a ballet instructor and witness her strictly teaching a group of young girls. Anna ruthlessly grips one girl’s outstretched thigh and holds it in place for an uncomfortable period as the child emits choked cries. The combination of the physical contact between the two women, the extreme close-up and the rising moans makes the shot feel strangely sadomasochistic.

During the subway scene that follows shortly after, Anna makes rhythmic cries that are difficult to read until the conclusion of the scene. In the climactic example, Mark pursues a grunting sound into an unknown house and walks in on his wife in a shocking situation, but whether her cries refer to pleasure or pain remains ambiguous. The final shot of Mark and Anna together involves Anna emitting a cry while on top of Mark that seems to quite explicitly combine the pleasure/pain dichotomy. This constant play with our interpretation of sound, places us within the system of sexual chaos central to “Possession.”

The music is composed by Andrzej Korzynski and goes a long way towards establishing the proper mood of tension and alienation. Certain pieces return to accent key moments or punctuate the dialogue, though usually with a subtlety not found in the rest of the film. The music never bridges the hard cuts (which might have served to ‘heal the cut’ so to speak), but rather kicks in simultaneously with the new shot to throw us that much more off balance. The combination of music and sound in the disturbing, uncertain finale elicits an intellectual query (we aren’t quite sure what is going on) as much as an emotional response.

Finally, I want to put a shout-out to the special effects designed by Carlo Rambaldi. According the DVD commentary he worked with almost no time or money, but his stunning results are impossible to ignore. Interestingly, Rambaldi has a direct connection to my precious Italian horror hobby. He did special effects for less than 25 films, but managed to work on personal favorite gialli by the three great Italian horror masters: Mario Bava on “Twitch of the Death Nerve” (1971), Lucio Fulci on “A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin” (1971) and Dario Argento on “Deep Red” (1975). Rambaldi also did the effects for “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982).

[Image: A final-act pink sock… now it all makes sense!]

Walrus Rating: 10


Mad Dog said...

I almost feel like this is a spiritual predecessor to Silent Hill 2, as it shares quite a few visual motifs and plot themes. I also have to agree that the special effects in the film were truly memorable and eerie. Nothing will ever quite be like that first time I saw this movie, and got buffeted around by its impenetrable story, insane characters and brilliant direction. It's a shame it's out of print, because I'd want everyone reading this review to go out there and experience it for themselves.

magusart said...

Silent Hill 2 also shares similarities with the Orpheus myth, and the Maria/Mary relationship reminds me heavily of the Mary robot from Metropolis.

But anyway, I must see Possession.

Unknown said...

An excellent dissection (heh) of the movie. Great screen shots (or, as good as are allowed without spoilers).

Sadly, it does not really cover one of the things I like about it on a higher level, which is the complete sincerity and craziness of the director.

Also, maybe you can advise John on how to find Possession? Didn't we get it online eventually?

But John, you should have Magus watch the video of the subway scene.

Mad Dog said...

I already have, Katie. >:3

But I also have a copy of Possession. I found it used for $10 at a local store. Then I had a heart attack.

FilmWalrus said...

Interesting comments concerning the Silent Hill 2 connection. I like Magus's reading of SH2 as a modernization of the Orpheus myth. I never made the Metropolis connection, but it certainly has intriguing possibilities. It certainly connects with "Possession" and the whole Anna/Helen relationship. I'd say the only thing not in common about the mood in SH2 and Possession is that SH2 doesn't share the performative excess.

Patti said...

Why bother reviewing a movie when you could just say "pure, unadulterated, heavenly awesome"?
I think I had no idea what sort of crazyness I was getting into upon my first viewing. I seem to remember watching it twice, though.... which is certainly not a bad thing. I think I didn't know I could appreciate something like "Possession" at first.

Anonymous said...

Loved your review...but you got Adjani's name wrong - it's *ISABELLE*, not Isabella.

FilmWalrus said...

Thanks for the correction! I have now fixed the names.

Anonymous said...

Have you wondered entirely why Anna continues to wear the same dress throughout the film - how long is the story taking place? A few days, a week? Also, there is a scene of dialogue where Anna and Mark are sitting on the couch and Anna starts fidgeting with her hands and screams something like "...for no one!" I can't catch all of the dialogue because of the thick accents. What is she saying?

Anonymous said...

Great review of this amazingly surreal movie! I just finished watching it for the first time, even though I read about it in Weldon's Psychotronic Video and it sounded interesting then.
That movie works as a metaphor in so many levels.
I only wish that the Anchor Bay version I got had subtitles as Adjani and other actors were difficult to understand.

FilmWalrus said...

Rich, I totally hear you on the need for subtitles. I like to turn the subtitles on for every movie I watch, even English language ones. There are some semi-incoherent ravings by Heinrich that I would especially like to have clarified.

Anonymous said...

Thу review is not deep enough. It concentrates mainly on the work of the actors and the operator but a few words are said about the inherent meaning of the whole picture and its particular elements (despite this 'love-pain' collaboration and some other nonsignificant things).

FilmWalrus said...

I'm a Bordwellian when it comes to doing critical analysis, meaning I try to study and images and sounds and discuss the concrete aspects of the film. I intentionally tried to leave broader speculation about the "inherent meaning of the whole picture" in the hands of the reader though I hope the themes I touched upon help can help encourage that thought process.

As for the "nonsignificant things", I'm not sure what parts of the film or my review you are referring to. I just talk about the elements I'm interested in.

Anonymous said...

Well, ok, i admit i was too hasty in calling your review 'not deep enough'. I should have said it was not the one i was looking for or it was the one with a quite limited framework. And it's really easy to understand taking into consideration a wide range of themes and elements engaged in the film. In any way i'd like to thank you for the review because it really succeeds in throwing light upon the themes it was intended to.

Anonymous said...

i would also like to comment that your review, didnt cover what i was looking for in terms of the braking down of themes. fantastic interpretation of camera angles and shot types though.things i would never of picked up upon myself. do you know of any articles that discus what the film was about. thank you

J3ssic4 said...

Excellent review. I too wish for more understanding of this amazing movie. I do appreciate your comments about the camera work and sound.
There is just so much here I feel I could watch Possession a thousand times and still not see/hear/feel everything.

FilmWalrus said...


Possession is certainly one of the most worthwhile films to rewatch over and over again. I've seen it many times now and I keep catching new nuances. I suspect (from the director's commentary and his writings) that there may be no single key that unlocks the meanings in a total and cohesive way, but I find it quite satisfying nonetheless. If there was some simple answer that summarized the themes and explained every detail, perhaps it wouldn't beguile us as much. In that sense, I'm happy that it compels people to think about it, even to the point of occasional frustration, and to revisit it often.

J3ssic4 said...

So true. From the commentary it seems that Żuławski doesn't even fully understand it himself.
This is truly one of the most amazing films I have seen.

trence5 said...

Wow, this was one of the weirdest flicks I've ever seen; only explanation that I can possibly fathom is that thing was something out of Lovecraftian lore, as it seemed to drive those mad that saw it; Still haven't worked out something for wife's doppleganger yet (maybe her and the husband's double at the end share similar origin?)

trence5 said...

Wow, this was one of the weirdest flicks I've ever seen; only explanation that I can possibly fathom is that thing was something out of Lovecraftian lore, as it seemed to drive those mad that saw it; Still haven't worked out something for wife's doppleganger yet (maybe her and the husband's double at the end share similar origin?)

Anonymous said...

I think the Lovecraftian connection is slight in that one needs to put themselves into the position of the characters that see these unfathomable creatures as if in real life; what would you do upon seeing them yourself? A likely response would be to become unhinged with all your preconceptions and the structures of which you thought life itself were based upon become dashed and your mind untethered.
^ And that's the reading only if you take this to be a pure fantasy piece. The other reading I have of it is that this everything that's seen is a kind of middle ground of explicit, concrete/obvious issues mixed with embodied subtextual elements, the latter's tentstakes being the topics and references presented in the less firmly contextualized ramblings and mutterings. Am i being Capt. Obvious here? So if the viewing of these creatures drives them to madness, perhaps this act itself upon seeing such "gorey truth" or "unexpectness", perhaps the whole relationship each character has with Anna up to the point of seeing them as an exposition of the coming point, is itself their own recognition of what one might see in themselves when they have a palpable, emotional recognition of their own mortality (endings/divorce/no longer possessing what one hoped to possess in life, if not life itself, the terror one can be driven to feel when facing the cruel and hollow infinity of death, garblejarble, etc.)
Well, back to the point I was going to make earlier relating to the "creatures". There's the conversation had near the end with Heinrich's mother about his soul being separate from his body; I take this to mean that those grotesque creatures are the souls of the men in the film. Try to identify the keeper of each one since their number grows as do her victims.

Anonymous said...

Other than that I believe there's a good body of underlying themes mostly relating to death, the possession of loved one's and even one's own life. The dichotomy of Faith(fate?) and Chance frame this in that Chance is something that is done to one in life while Faith is something one implements to grasp to what is in one's life (while they still have it). Anna said something along the lines of "Faith must be held/tended to like a child" in the scene subsequent to what seems to be her intent to murder becoming known as a conscious (subtextual) action to handle having lost her connection to Chance. Murder in this case is purely a subjective device for Action as done via Faith as opposed to Chance. To Do and not be Done To (see the film "Izo" for more of this). I'd love to go on but I watched it over two days and had to delete it to free up some HD space and I notice my inappropriately prolix tendencies rising up here. That and perhaps someone with a better handle of the liberal arts would be better at unraveling the complex thematic language this film speaks in. How about that dog? ...and "Almost"? the doubles? the boy in the tub? Ah! SPOILER: The boy is face down in the water at the end while Mark is in water as if face down but upright at the door... :hmm... the subway tunnel scene with the "miscarriage", children as continuity of the self being an act of Faith against Chance, the doubles/children...and act of subverting/murdering what the Faith of others' brings against us(Chance)....Hmm... ah! Similarly the pinksocked-man being the counter to Mark's work which could be defined as Mark's obligatory, mandatory Faith for survival, that which sustains his personal Faith, is what becomes Chance acting against the pinksocked-man, thus the action scenes at the end bring resolution to the exterior/work life of Mark after the film prior to this explaining his interior/home life. Anna finding Mark saying "how could I *not* find you now!?" seems to be saying that there is some understanding on Mark's part of Anna's plight in that he has taken up, or at least shared with Anna, the nature of what he does for her... it being just as "cuttingly certain" as her own private Acts she takes up in his absence(to fill the loneliness/livingdeath/loss of him). But yes, the dopplegangers are a tad unclear to me at the moment.

Anonymous said...

I think I might understand the Mark's doppelganger. It was stated as Mark met this doppelganger that it was made/created and was ready. This could be something like a projected self that is held in the mind of A about B, a reduction of a sort which could, as in this case, be used as a weapon against the original. For example, A is out to get B, but B casts [(their own thoughts of A) = A'], at A to make them doubt or think less of themselves. The fired bullets being the terminating/successfulness of A' against A. So there's some kind of balance, much like when one hears the idea of one person in a relationship always needing the other one less and is thus "in control" in the relationship. When Anna killed herself on the stairs it was to state that what she needed from Mark was attained and was sated by it and thus removed herself metaphorically from the scene. There's much more to go on about the doppelganger after that moment on the staricase, and then even more with Anna's doppelganger, but I'll leave it there.
++++Is there some forum where these kinds of ideas can be discussed?

FilmWalrus said...

Glad to see that the film has latched onto your mind! I'm too overwhelmed to address all of your thoughts, but I want to interrogate your creatures-as-the-souls-of-the-men hypothesis.

As I understand it, there is really only one creature in the film (born during the subway miscarriage scene) that evolves into the Mark doppelganger. The dramatic changes in its appearance are a result of Zulawski's confessed lack of budget and Rambaldi's lack of time.

Though we could interpret the stages of the creature as reflections of the men's soul, I just don't see it. I think the creature is more a projection of Anna, whose intimacy with it is in sharp contrast to the men, who can hardly comprehend it and who freeze up when confronting it.

Then too, it serves as a symbol of Anna and Mark's "aborted" and "monstrous" relationship which is already falling apart before the monster even arrives on the scene. In that sense the creature is a result of the physical and emotional absence of Mark and the embodiment of Anna's initially repressed responses her loneliness, frustration and neglected mental illness. It is only at the end of the film when Mark is able to accept Anna fully and share a relationship that pierces his banal logic and enters into mutual madness, secrecy and transgression that they are able to be truly reunited. The consummation, as part of the film's inevitable logic, is a violent double suicide. The implication that their doppelgangers are about to meet in the final scene and may repeat the relationship in some bizarre cycle might seem to offer hope that this time things will go better, but it is played out so creepily, not to mention apocalyptically, that I think otherwise.

The only Zulawski forum's I know of is here, although its threadbare:

Anonymous said...

And the winner of the most ludicrous phrase of your blog goes to:
"She delivers a performance packed with unrivaled intensity and bravery (dwarfing even Isabella Rossellini in “Blue Velvet” (1986)) as the consequences of her unhappy marriage overtake her."
Wahhh-Hahaha!!! And a perfect "10" score because is that kind of movie that you cant really understand...Oh, poor donky balls sucker!

2cent said...

When I used to live at my parents house in Montreal I would stay up late on saturdays in my room without them knowing it.I would watch a french channel called radioquebec because they would show european movies and often there was nudity in them,I was thirteen or forteen at the time and it was a kick.So one night there was this strange movie called "Possession",I didn't know what it was about but when I saw the beautiful Adjani I was hooked,but little did I know what was in store,I am thirty eight now and I can say that the scene in the subway tunnel with Adjani screaming has given me nightmares for years.Slasher flicks do not scare me,Vampires, Zombies etc. make me laugh.But this total insane unexpainable scene in my mind has never been topped,I still get goosebumps thinking about it.Was the movie any good?I have no clue,I would have to see it again,I havent seen it since I was a teenager but I am not sure if I have the guts to see it again.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen any of Zulawski's other films? Walrus? I think Possession is in the middle of his work as far as quality goes. You should definitely check out some of his others, especially Diabel, On the Silver Globe, La femme publique, My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days, L'import c'est d'aimer, and The Third Part of the Night. They're all amazing.

FilmWalrus said...


I do think all of Zulawski's work is interesting, provocative and often even brilliant, but for me, none of it has yet come close to rivaling Possession. I've seen all the films you've mentioned and also Boris Godounov and Fidelity, both of which I would place amongst his best work (though few, perhaps, would agree). I own Szamanka, but I've yet to actually sit down and watch it.

I think that Possession works so well for me because it mixes Zulawski's style and themes with the horror genre that I so love (especially the art-horror subgenre) and because it stars some of my favorite actors giving such great performances. I also think Possession manages to be just coherent enough to work as a powerful story, while still being loose enough to allow tons of interpretation and rewatchability.

Possession was also my first Zulawski film, which often makes a difference.

Jason King said...

The pink sock...

Maybe a jokey reference to the 1931 film Frankenstein in which Fritz the manservant similarly stops on a staircase to adjust his sock, before carrying on his way up to create the monster?

Black River Darkwater said...

With the image of the crucified Christ and the line "God is a disease" this film brings to mind the title's New Testament resonances. Only there is no exorcism here. The demons, like the violent, "bear it away. Its surreal dystopic atmosphere reminds one of Lynch's "Eraserhead" (not to mention the dysfunctional marriage therein) and the bloody scenes recall the drippy horror of Cronenberg or even "Hellraiser". "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf" cannot help come to mind either. These elements, which can only be fumblingly adumbrated, are fused seamlessly in this movie so that it is not derivative in any way. The viewer here has his/her sensibilities pushed to the limit, but, like war or purgatory, it is a blessed thing to live through.

crapman said...

This discussion has touched upon some of the themes that I'm interested in, but what really puzzles (frustrates) me relate to the following questions:
What is Mark's job and what did he do while he was away?
Who is the man with the Pink socks?
Why do we hear what sounds like missiles and bombs in the final scene?
As far as I can see, no one has addressed these questions (at least not directly). If anyone has any ideas on these things, please share them.

FilmWalrus said...

Hey crapman,

It has been a while now since I last watched this, but I plan to watch it again in the near future and I may be able to do a better job answering you then. In the meantime, here's what I assumed:

I think Mark's a government agent, most likely a spy. One of the background elements in the films is the parallels between the deterioration of relations between Mark/Anna and the political deterioration of relations between the West and East. Hence the setting in Berlin near the wall, a vivid reminder of Cold War tensions and (as it was thought then) irreconcilable differences. The man in the pink socks is Mark's handler, for either the West German government or some other Western power. Presumably corrupt. I think it is safe to say that whatever Mark was doing while away it was stressful, dangerous and secret. The sounds at the end were indeed missiles and bombs. It is the world coming to an end (as confirmed in the director's commentary). One might assume that Mark's off-screen mission and the man in the pink suit played some small part in bringing the Cold War to real war. It would certainly continue to fit the parallel with the final (fatal) breakdown between Mark and Anna. That last bit's merely my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I love this movie!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely fell in love with this movie and with the gorgeous Adjana as well. I was able to get a copy of the Anchor Bay DVD that didn't cost an arm and a leg. It's part of my top 3 art/horror films with my top being Let the Right One In and third being Hour of the Wolf. All of them mind-tripping affairs.

Anonymous said...

Total mind trip. Nuff said. Only 2 things that have disturbed me this much are a Irreversible and A Serbian Film. Oh...and The Brood.