Possession (1981)

“You know, when I’m away from you, I think of you as a monster or a woman possessed, and then I see you again and all this disappears.”

‘Possession’, directed by Andrzej Żuławski in 1981, is a psychological horror movie set in Berlin.  Mark, played by Sam Neill, is a spy whose marriage, and mind, is falling apart. His wife, Anna, played by Isabelle Adjani, is pressing for a divorce, but is harbouring a dark secret in a second apartment in the city. Mark’s deteriorating mental state, and Anna’s obsessive and maniacal drive to keep her secret leads to a cycle of increasingly bloody and macabre events. It’s a dark, faintly absurd movie, one which it would be possible to watch repeatedly without grasping the full implications of the plot. It’s also a little tempting to wonder whether the director was fully in control of his story, but the individual moments in the film are striking and disturbing, and the visual effects, especially that of Anna’s ‘secret’, are horribly effective. It felt rather like I was watching a genre-infused pastiche of a Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie. The scenes have the same drab, internal feel to Fassbinder’s films, whilst the slightly seedy tone is also replicated. What is also jarring about the film is the mixture of international influences: the film is directed by a Pole, filmed in Germany, has a generic connection to America and the dialogue is in English. All of these influences seem to fight against each other and thus unsettle rather than engage the viewer, but as the film is designed to unsettle this is perhaps the intention. The performances are also alienating; each character is somehow twisted, mercurial and prone to violent outbursts. The acting is heightened and, at times, over the top, which also contributes to the feeling you’re watching something that is intended to repel you. Żuławski’s movie resists analysis, resists being liked, and wilfully revels in its own enigmatic and insubstantial trashiness.

Would I recommend it? Maybe – but only if you have a strong stomach and a willingness to spend time in a grim and seedy world. Watch with Fassbinder’s ‘Satan’s Brew’ for the aesthetic similarities and to become thoroughly depressed.


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