Myles of Footage
I had a dream once where I was being chased by a monster down a long, narrow hallway. It felt like I was stuck in quicksand because I couldn’t quite get my legs moving fast enough to escape the monster’s claws. Right before watching Polanski’s Repulsion I shared that dream with a friend who told me that I’d experience the same fright by watching that movie. Not only was I lied to by a good friend, which is already bad enough, I was disappointed by the film’s failure to enrapture me, a quality normally associated with a psychological thriller of this caliber.
To be brutally honest, the first hour is a real endurance test but Polanski gets the benefit of the doubt on two counts: this was his first English language film and as far as I can tell, Catherine Deneveuve’s first English speaking role.
As aforementioned, the first hour is kind of weird. Weird in the sense that nothing much happens. We follow Deneuve as she strolls aimlessly down the street, gawked at by the men she passes by (and who can blame them? A 20-year old Deneuve!!); at work, where she’s constantly daydreaming; or at home where she resents her sister for having her boyfriend over so often. To her credit, Deneuve plays her role…decently. The frequent hair tossing and nose brushing suggest that she’s deeply disturbed, and her reluctance to engage in any sexual activity, no matter how innocent, indicate problems that are probably more deep-rooted than she thinks. Some theories propose that her repressed sexual abuse is responsible for this behavior, but that’s debatable. Throughout the movie, however, she keeps the same straight face and rarely deviates from it, save for a scene halfway through where she’s laughing hysterically.
Polanski chronicles Deneuve’s descent into madness for the first 80 minutes or so until she finally cracks and commits her first murder. Now, I must admit that I am rather offended and angered by the people who tag this movie with terms such as “one of the most disturbing movies of all-time”, because honestly it isn’t. Sure, it could have been 45 years ago but now it looks extremely tame compared to the hundreds of other, genuinely disturbing movies that I’ve seen in my life (El Topo, Eraserhead and A Clockwork Orange immediately come to mind). The murder scenes are accompanied by laughable drum “music” and B-grade cinematography where the camera points directly at Deneuve while she clumsily waves a knife up and down. People consider this a masterpiece of the psychological thriller genre?
Polanski opts for many close ups of Deneuve’s face during the film either to capture her paranoia or just to show how goddamn pretty she is, I wasn’t too sure. It’s hit and miss. There are some Hithcockian elements to the way Polanski shoots and the final (there’s that word again) ‘disturbing’ sequences involving Deneuve’s fleeting grip with reality are relatively amusing (cracks suddenly appearing in the wall and what not), yet overall I was left severely under whelmed by this movie. Part of Polanski’s “Apartment trilogy”, I’d easily consider this one as the weakest of the three.
Perhaps I’ve seen too many fucked up movies in my day, or I just wasn’t in the right state of mind to fully appreciate Repulsion. In the end though, a slow build-up and a one-dimensional Deneuve leads me to recommend this movie to hardcore Polanksi/Deneuve buffs only, and to those who have a lot more patience than I do.