A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)

Carol: Catherine Deneuve
Michael: Ian Hendry
Colin: John Fraser
Helen: Yvonne Furneaux
Landlord: Patrick Wymark
Miss Balch: Renee Houston
Madame Denise: Valerie Taylor
John: James Villiers
Bridget: Helen Fraser
Reggie: Hugh Futcher

Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Roman Polanski, Gérard Brach
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
Art direction: Seamus Flannery
Film editing: Alastair McIntyre
Music: Chico Hamilton

Repulsion was only Roman Polanski's second feature film, yet it's the work of a master. It's nothing more than a portrait of a schizophrenic, played by the astonishingly beautiful Catherine Deneuve, and treated with a remarkable detachment. We don't know why Carol Ledoux is mad. A lesser director would have given us flashbacks to Carol's childhood and a depiction of some trauma that has driven her repulsion toward sex. But all we see of her childhood is a photograph of a family group, glimpsed three times in the film: Once when the camera is surveying the furnishings of the living room in the apartment she shares with her sister, Helen; again when the brutish landlord, before attempting to rape Carol, picks it up and identifies the little blond girl in the picture as her as a child; and at the very end, when the camera tracks into the photograph, singling out the girl and drawing ever closer to her face, finally closing in on the little girl's eye and bringing us back to the opening of the film and its closeup on the adult Carol's eye. The expression on her face is distant, almost blank -- an expression we have seen throughout the film on the grownup Carol's face. What are we to make of this? That Carol was the victim of a childhood sexual trauma? Polanski chooses not to tell us because the focus of his film is on the effect rather than the cause. Carol has apparently been "normal" enough to learn a trade as a beautician, to hold down a job in a salon, to have a handsome boyfriend. But suddenly that "normality" is shattered when her sister decides to go off on a vacation to Italy with her own boyfriend, Michael, whom Carol detests. Left to her own devices, Carol spirals into insanity and eventually into murder. Whenever a headline-making crime occurs -- a mass shooting or something like today's news about a Southern California couple who kept their children prisoners and starved and tortured them for years -- our first instinct is to ask why they did it. And we rarely come upon the sources of the criminal's disturbance. The neighbors usually say he was such a quiet boy, or she was shy and a little weird but seemed nice enough. Polanski keeps us on edge through the film by making Carol's environment one that is simultaneously ordinary and conducive to madness: a piano playing scales somewhere in the apartment building, a neighboring Catholic school ringing bells, a shabby apartment full of dark corners and odd angles, a beauty salon whose customers undergo grotesque treatments like mud packs to improve their looks. On the street she passes an odd trio of buskers (one of whom is played by Polanski) and is harassed by a construction worker. Even her boyfriend, Colin, is a little edgy, having dated this beautiful woman long enough to expect her to have sex with him. In the end, it's as if Carol lashes out at a world that gets on her nerves. Polanski's film seems to be asking if that horror resides within all of us. 


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