[Film Review] Possession (1981)

Possession poster.jpg

Title: Possession
Year: 1981
Country: France, West Germany
Language: English, French, German
Genre: Drama, Horror
Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Writers: Andrzej Zulawski, Frederic Tuten
Music: Andrzej Korzynski
Cinematography: Bruno Nuytten
Isabelle Adjani
Sam Neill
Heinz Bennent
Michael Hogben
Margit Carstensen
Shaun Lawton
Carl Duering
Johanna Hofer
Rating: 7.5/10

Possession 1981.jpg

For all its over-brimming madness and mind-bending delirium, Zulawski’s POSSESSION, more than anything, brings out a corybantic Adjani as its unrivaled center piece, a performance that blows right in front of a viewer’s face with excessive intensity, peculiarity and potency, topped off by her subway tunnel solo-dancing as the possession reaches its apex with a gloppy miscarriage, heralding the conflicting dyad of Faith and Chance finally crumbles, she loses Faith, so only Chance remains inside her body.

That might sound inexplicable, but POSSESSION is Zulawski’s gonzo imagination of the inexplicability that deep-sixes marital unions (extracting from his real life experiences), Adjani’s Anna, makes a deal with a demon to exchange for the eternal affection from her husband Mark (Neill), why? Because she senses that Mark’s love is dwindling, yet, the contradiction is that Mark, blindsided by Anna’s divorce plea, is still besotted with her, clear as day, so where does she get that impression? In the bedroom one might posit, in her mind, Mark’s sexual potency is directly indexed to his interest in her physical body, when that interest appears diminishing, seeking corporeal pleasure from a virile lover Heinrich (Bennett, uncannily exuding some homoerotic heat as the ne plus ultra of an alpha male) cannot disabuse the idea that Mark has fallen out of love with her, so when Faith is ritualistically purged out of her system, she plays fire with Chance, instigates her possession of molding a carbon copy of Mark out of a gooey, amorphous entity (courtesy of Italian special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi’s staggering craftsmanship), so she can have him for keeps.

But of course, Mark loves her, more precisely, he is mad about her, Zulawski’s straight head space even offers Mark a carbon copy of Anna, Helen (also played by Adjani, with a more pleasurable comportment), the convivial kindergarten teacher of their son Bob (Hogben), to distract him, but he remains being possessed by Anna, even her increasingly erratic behavior driving both to the precipice of hysteria, physical violence and nervous breakdown, not to mention her murderous spree, he is going to the stake for her, to appease the profound guilt that he cannot satisfy her. Sam Neill’s unsung embodiment of a man losing his grip and inwardly humiliated by his unsatisfactory sexual prowess can be attributed to one of his finest screen bravura, and he is equally chilling in the form of Mark’s doppelgänger in the end, as if being directly teleported from Graham Baker’s THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981), as the Antichrist, a movie he starred in the same year.

As this reviewer sees it, the entire horror is stemmed from a woman’s instinctive misapprehension of her husband’s lessened libido, a message might appear misogynous to a certain degree, but that is just one school of thought, and there is some truth in it, which can be ascribed to the thin fine line between “libido” and “jouissance”, a perceptive hindsight is that both genders should dial down on the phallocentric obsession.

Trifling with the Berlin Wall background and espionage games (yes, the film is a French-West Germany co-production, set in Berlin and it appears Mark’s vocation is a spy), POSSESSION is a manic jumble of a married couple’s self-destruction reified by restlessly roving camera movement, grueling intimate confrontation, cacophonous sonic experiment and gory demonology, all circling around the two protagonists’ extraordinary submergence into a rarefied sphere of total delusion, submission and possession, and that is the hallmark of Zulawski.

referential entries: Zulawski’s THE PUBLIC WOMAN (1984, 6.7/10), THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE (1975, 6.2/10).

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