Title: Possession (1981)
Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Cast: Sam Neil, Isabelle Adjani
There are only a handful of filmmakers out there who are willing to take the route of the truly bizarre. To be this kind of a filmmaker, the kind that makes films that can be considered truly bizarre, and outlandish, films that don’t adhere at all to the rules that Hollywood plays by, you have to be a filmmaker with real conviction. Studios will not want to give you money to make your film because of the simple fact that your movie will probably be something that will be considered a hard sell. And a film that a studio doesn’t know who to sell it to is something they don’t want. They want to know exactly who this movie is aimed at, so they can start working on that marketing campaign right away.
Possesion is that kind of unorthodox film. It is so strange, so weird, and so bizarre, that it will only find life in the festival circuit or in the art house theater. And honestly, that’s just fine by me because at least that way we at least get to see this kind of film. Films that shock and titillate but at the same time have a brain. Though I’ll be real honest here, there are times in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession where you wont know what the hell is happening, because this is a film that Zulawski made for himself, to exorcise his own demons. You see, Zulawski made this film while in the middle of a divorce. In all honesty, this is one of the most crude and truthful attempts at capturing those last moments in a relationship when one of the members decides they simply don’t want to be with the other. The love, the lust is no longer there anymore.
The film tells the story of Mark and his wife Anna. They have been separated for some time, but for whatever reason, they apparently have decided to get back together. To see if they can work things out for the sake of their son. Turns out things aren’t working out at all. Anna doesn’t love Mark anymore. Naturally, Mark thinks that she has been unfaithful to him even though she flat out denies it. He doesn’t believe her, so he sends a private investigator to follow her and see what they can uncover. As they say, sometimes some things are better left in the dark.
This movie really shook me because I personally went through a break up recently after a relationship of many years. I’d like to think that I went about the whole ordeal in a rather adult manner, without any unnecessary drama. I mean, I figure if things aren’t working out, then why force it you know? Sometimes love just dies, people change, feelings change. I understand that. You just have to learn to move on with your life, my advice is this: life rarely stays in a stand still, things are always evolving. What you think will be one way forever; will probably end up changing drastically; if you ask me, that’s just the nature of the beast as far as life goes, you just have to learn to adapt. Or live a tortured life, whichever you prefer. But on this film, Sam Neill’s character doesn’t learn to adapt very well. He doesn’t take the idea of a divorce very well at all.
In fact, what I saw in Mark is what I never want to be ever! Mark is a guy who completely looses it when confronted with the idea of a break up. So much so that he seems to go completely crazy for a while. And I mean completely whacko batshit insane! In this way, Possession seemed a lot like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), where we have a protagonist who we follow through the whole film, but unfortunately we have to see them disintegrate into madness. Same as Polanski did in Repulsion, Zulawski uses odd camera angles to demonstrate Mark’s dementia. Speaking of Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani’s performances, I have to applaud both of them; they truly portrayed a couple who deals with divorce in the most childish and out of control way possible. I guess in this way Possession serves as a mirror to what we should never succumb to should we ever face this kind of situation. And lets face it, chances are that if you life in this world, you will face a heartbreaking breakup at some point in your life. See this movie before you go through one, you will want to deal with things in a more humane and controlled manner.
But Zulawski’s films are never about control. In fact, they are always about going overboard. About excess. This is the reason why I compare Zulawski with Ken Russell, another filmmaker who thrives in depicting human excess in his films. In both of these filmmakers films, characters succumb to the darkest and most depraved sides of human behavior. On Possession, characters don’t want to behave in the correct way; they behave diametrically opposite to what is considered normal or proper. They go all the way crazy and wrong. Not only do they behave incorrectly in regards to their break up, we also see Mark and Anna’s child being neglected because they are so self centered and selfish. They are only thinking about their own emotions and their own state of mind, they are so self centered that they forget that they have a child living with them. This is a very interesting aspect of the film and one that follows the characters all the way through out the development of the story. We get to see the child’s side of the story and how he is affected by the situation the parents are living through. I found it interesting how more then once in the film the kid hides underwater, as if to escape the horrible situations he is living through. His parents fight, scream and even physically attack each other, most of the time completely ignoring the child.
Both actors outdo themselves; I’ve never seen Sam Neill act so crazy on any film. But it seems like Zulawski wanted the characters to purposely act like they were high on something all the time, because there are very few moments where the characters act in a way that can be considered ‘normal’. The performances on this film aren’t to be considered realistic in any sense of the word, they are enhanced, like human emotions on crack; running wild and without restraint. The only time they act in a normal fashion is whenever they face society, but when they are alone with themselves inside of their apartment, their ugly side surfaces and then, this ugly side is the only side they show each other.
Sam Neil totally looses it on this movie!
Isabelle Adjani won the best actress award on both the Cannes Film Festival and the Cesar Awards, and when you see this film you’ll see why. There is this one scene that demonstrates how feelings and emotions can make you blow up in anger, and make you completely loose it. Anna completely looses it in one moment of the film, so much so that it feels like she is possessed, hence the films title. The scene is grueling and long, but it makes an impact. It’s one of the most memorable sequences in the film. I say one of the most memorable ones because there are other sequences that will leave you shocked as well.
Possession is a film that takes every angle about a break up and analyzes with a magnifying glass. It explores that feeling of insecurity one might feel when faced with the possibility of the break up coming as a result of infidelity. Mark doesn’t believe Anna has been faithful, so he goes out of his way to find out the truth. It asks the question: do you really want to know the truth? If you ask the director of this film that question, he will tell you that no, you don’t want to know the truth. Mark keeps digging and digging until finally, he comes face to face with the reality of the situation. What Mark faces at the end of his search embodies how Zulawski sees that third person that can make its way into a relationship and completely destroy things. And this is where the cosmic horror of the film comes into play, and where a lot of people adhere H.P. Lovecraft influences on the film. I don’t want to give too much away for anybody, but I salute Carlo Rambaldi for contributing some truly excellent make up effects work on this film! Rambaldi’s contributions to this film make for one of the most memorable images this film has to offer, and one of the most shocking ones. By the way, these scenes involving tentacled creatures, suddenly give the film its horror angle. For the longest time, the film feels like a bizarre film about relationships, but it isn’t until we hit the creature angle that the film earns its horror badge. It reminded me a bit of David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1978) in a way. In Eraserheard David Lynch compared an unwanted child to a horrible disfigured creature that caused nothing but discomfort and problems, in this way hammering home the message that if you don’t want to be a parent, then don’t, because it can be a nightmare to have a child and not be ready for that responsability. In Possession, Zulawski does the same, but dealing with the issues of infidelity. Giving the attributes of a monster, to the cause of the pain.
Closing words: this film is not only an exploration of the issues of divorce, and disintegration of a relationship, it also explores love triangles, the way a man feels when he is rejected, and the insecurities involved. In one scene Mark gets annoyingly inquisitive about the reasons why Anna wants to leave him. It explores the way a woman feels when she is between two men and the toll that a love triangle can take on a persons sanity. The way the female feels when faced with violence from men. And it even touches upon themes of the existence of god, and the inevitability of death. At one point Sam Neill’s character practically defies death at every turn, looking for the fastest way to die. An amazing movie! A word of warning though, it is a film that is not easy to digest. It is heavy on symbolisms and its hyperbolic style might seem a bit too harsh for some viewers. But if you like bizarre cinema as I do, and if you like excess in your films, then don’t miss this electrifying picture.
Rating: 5 out of 5