Film Club - REPULSION

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mentalist (slight return)
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Film Club - REPULSION

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 18 Feb 2009, 03:39

Repulsion starts with an extreme closeup of Carole's eye. The beautiful Catherine Deneuve is a feast for our own eyes as is Carole for everyone who looks at her. Yet what she sees is rather disturbing, increasingly so as the movie progresses and her hallucinations and dreams take control. Carole is almost mute, she seems to have no interests and is heavily reliant on her sister. She is somewhat of a child, someone who hasn't fully grown up maybe due to an unspoken mental anguish which we can choose to tease out as the movie progresses. There's certainly hints at the end when the camera focusses on a family photo with a young Carole and those disturbed eyes staring at someone who is probably her father.

Carole seems to be repulsed by men, by sex. Repulsion suggests a physical need to repel things that threaten her. From the simple act of desperately cleaning her face when kissed to those wonderfully disturbing murders she commits. I'm not sure if I should admit to this but I thought those two murders were absolutely delicious to watch. Especially that of her leery landlord, played with seeming relish by Patrick Wymark. In a way you can't blame her for the murders, or at least you can't blame her for being threatened by someone who breaks her door down and by someone else who attacks her sexually. Of course she clearly plans elements of the first murder.

I love some of the techniques Polanski uses. Point of view shots seem to be very effective in expressing her isolation and her increasingly fragile mental state. Shots which exaggerate the size of the room, or where the roof seems to cave in on her, high angled shots through the window which make the apartment seem a lot further from the ground than it is. He doesn't overuse them but they effectively exaggerate perspective which is an effective way of simulating the state of mind Carole's in.

So many objects in this film seem to be laden with meaning. The fetus-like rabbit suggests the increasingly disturbed mental state of Carole. The potatoes that tell us time has progressed, Michael's razor blade, ominous shadows, cracks in the wall. It's a crack in the sidewalk that signals her descent to me. She sees this crack and it literally freezes her and leaves her late for a date with the gormless young chap who is smitten with her. She is so often frozen in this film, almost catatonic. And it's only Charlie Chaplin that can snap her out of this misery!

I'm not sure why this film was made in England but it certainly allowed Polanski to work with some great support actors. I particularly liked Valerie Taylor's Madame Denise and Ian Hendry as Helene's lover Michael. I'd be interested to to know if Alfred Hithccock had any views on Repulsion. The tension & suspense, the horror, the humour, the beautiful blonde, all suggest some influence.

Anyhow, I'm not very comfortable doing this type of thing so I'll shut up and let you lot talk more sense than me.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 18 Feb 2009, 06:25

If you haven't seen it yet, consider this a spoiler warning and skip my post.

I haven't revisited it yet. It should be arriving tomorrow. But I know it pretty well. Repulsion is a film that never quite leaves you once you've seen it. As I mentioned in my post on Stroszek, the two films seemed to share one aspect in common. They both seemed to be about the aftermath of trauma. In the case of Repulsion, it is only in the very last shot that we overtly realize this fact. It leaves you with one of those "aha" moments that should have been obvious all along. Somehow Polanski keeps the news that all of this is about childhood sexual abuse from taking on the movie of the week banality that almost every other film on the subject has fallen into. This is obviously because of the incredible atmospherics of the film - kind of a negative version Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast as psychological hell house.

I'm looking forward to watching it again. There are few films as truly disturbing. For a while during this period (from Knife in the Water to Chinatown) Polanski was the equal of any filmmaker in the medium's history. I don't think this is his best film, but no doubt it was his most visceral - the purest expression of true cinema he would ever concoct.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Sneelock » 18 Feb 2009, 07:18

I think it shows what a muscular command of his craft he had very early on.
I saw it on a double bill with "in the realm of the senses" and I didn't ask any women out on a date for at least a year.

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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 18 Feb 2009, 13:25

Sneelock wrote:I saw it on a double bill with "in the realm of the senses"


:o Holy shit.

What sick fuck put those two together? I'd never get out of therapy.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Snarfyguy » 18 Feb 2009, 15:34

Fantastic film and I'm grateful for the suggestion to revisit it.

mentalist (slight return) wrote:I love some of the techniques Polanski uses. Point of view shots seem to be very effective in expressing her isolation and her increasingly fragile mental state. Shots which exaggerate the size of the room, or where the roof seems to cave in on her, high angled shots through the window which make the apartment seem a lot further from the ground than it is. He doesn't overuse them but they effectively exaggerate perspective which is an effective way of simulating the state of mind Carole's in.

Yeah, the atmospherics are terrific. I like how you could never really determine what the layout of the apartment was; where hallways lead and which rooms are next to which. It makes for a disorienting viewing experience, which allows the viewer to identify with the character.

At the same time though, and I'm not sure if this is intended (but since it's Polanski it probably is), Catherine Deneuve is so sexy that I felt kind of guilty watching her, so both sides of that coin are accounted for.

Anyway, the way the apartment mirrors her increasingly fragile mental state is done really well.

EDIT: I rented this DVD of it:

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It looks like a bad transfer from a bad print and I think it's a "pan and scan". Also, it's too contrast-y so there's not much shading and I had the feeling I was missing photographic subtleties. The sound wasn't so hot either.

Anyway, if you're planning on seeing this movie, Amazon shows a couple of other DVD versions of the movie so maybe you should try for one of those depending on what's available where you are.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Jeff K » 18 Feb 2009, 23:14

When Polanski uses an apartment as his setting, you know you're in for a scary ride. Repulsion takes it time getting to where it wants to go but the last half hour or so is pure 'edge of your seat' cinema. It's also evidence as to how influential Psycho must have been to young film-makers all over the world. Great film !
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 20 Feb 2009, 00:23

Davey the Soul Fraud wrote:[b]In the case of Repulsion, it is only in the very last shot that we overtly realize this fact. It leaves you with one of those "aha" moments that should have been obvious all along. Somehow Polanski keeps the news that all of this is about childhood sexual abuse from taking on the movie of the week banality that almost every other film on the subject has fallen into.

It's interesting you read the film this way. I certainly did and most people would. It suggests as much but it doesn't have to be read that way. For example the box cover in this thread mentions the nightmare world of a virgin's dreams. Maybe she wasn't abused at all. I reckon Repulsion is open to interpretations and maybe intentionally so. In some ways the movie is about how we interpret what we see. Err ... but maybe all films are about that.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 23 Feb 2009, 16:30

mentalist (slight return) wrote:
Davey the Soul Fraud wrote:[b]In the case of Repulsion, it is only in the very last shot that we overtly realize this fact. It leaves you with one of those "aha" moments that should have been obvious all along. Somehow Polanski keeps the news that all of this is about childhood sexual abuse from taking on the movie of the week banality that almost every other film on the subject has fallen into.

It's interesting you read the film this way. I certainly did and most people would. It suggests as much but it doesn't have to be read that way. For example the box cover in this thread mentions the nightmare world of a virgin's dreams. Maybe she wasn't abused at all. I reckon Repulsion is open to interpretations and maybe intentionally so. In some ways the movie is about how we interpret what we see. Err ... but maybe all films are about that.


Just watched it again.

I'm trying to imagine how one could see the film and not conclude that she'd been abused. I'd forgotten just how many times she envisioned herself being raped. I suppose one could view those as paranoid imaginings out of nowhere, but the theme is so central to her mental state that it seems like an odd interpretation. Occam's razor would suggest that these are at least partially memory. And of course, this would appear to be backed up by the final shot.

Seeing the movie again I was struck by how Polanski integrated all of the sounds of the apartment and the world outside into her mental state. If it weren't such unpleasant subject matter you could almost use the word beautiful. As I said earlier, it really is a slice of pure cinema. I can't think of another film so unburdoned by story constraints that comes near it. I'm not even sure that we can pinpoint what evnt in the film kicks her over the edge. Maybe she had been over the edge for a long time but always had her sister there to pull her back from the abyss. Maybe having her sister bring a man home was the final straw. Hard to say. For a film that bases itself on psychology, Polanski wisely doesn't ever allow us to get a safe enough distance from her to analyze hers. He wants us to experience her mental state, and by the end of the film it really is hard not to feel like you've been hanging out a bit too close to the abyss yourself.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Jeemo » 24 Feb 2009, 23:00

Its years since I last saw it. But a great bit of the film for me was the Nuns playing in the convent garden and only seeing part of it as it was partialy obscured by a wall. The contrast of the "carefree" nuns and Caroles mental state is very well done.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 24 Feb 2009, 23:03

There are a lot of little touches like that. My favorite is the guy from across the hall watching as she talks to her landlord. He is there for a long, uncomfortable amount of time - but Polanski never makes a point of him being there by focusing in on him.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Quaco » 25 Feb 2009, 20:12

I saw it years ago too, so I've forgotten a lot about it. The main thing I remember is that the look of the film isn't really black and white, it's more grey and white. Black and white is sometimes used to make things more exact and contrast-y, but here everything seemed to be filmed through sort of a gauze. Do others have this same impression, or did I just see a bad print/showing? I found it very claustrophobic, like I couldn't quite see what was going on sometimes, or things were being kept from me.

Regarding the abuse issue -- even if she was technically a virgin, she was likely traumatized by something, which caused her to get all these ideas into her head.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby the masked man » 04 Apr 2009, 22:36

I once read an article by a Russian writer, who commented that London, as a city, can amplify whatever mood you're in. If you're happy, you can probably find the best party in the world; but if you're lonely, you can feel like the most isolated person in the world there. I think there's a grain of truth in that, and watching Repulsion really brings this home.

The 60s London in this film resolutely refuses to swing, though there are brief hints of a life that is eluding the main character here. More precisely, it is the bleak apartment she lives in that echoes her state of mind and eventually consumes her. A while ago, I considered the existence of a previously unrecognised genre I dubbed 'architectural cinema'. Films belonging to this genre are dominated by one central building, whose atmosphere is so pervasive it almost becomes a character itself. Think of great Hollywood films like Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard. But whereas those films feature grand (if crumbling) mansions, here the film's mood is set by a tiny, claustrophobic apartment. What better place to track a lonely person's mental disintegration? Every crack in the wall, every detail of the interior (those potatoes!) seems infused with symbolic meaning. (As an aside, note how Polanski likes using the sense of enclosure that an apartment block offers - see also Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant[i]. The other recurring motif in his films is the sea: [i]Knife In The Water, Cul-De-Sac, Pirates, Bitter Moon....but I digress.)

It's not a film where much is explained through dialogue; apparently Polanski only spoke rudimentary English when he made the film. No wonder, then, that he focused on the visual element of the film so much. The film doesn't ask that we understand the character's insanity, but instead that we see her world through her eyes. Suggestions are made as to her family history (the use of the photograph seen in close-up at the end is the biggest clue), but, on the other hand, her fear of the male sex is far from unfounded. Her landlord attempts to assault her, and the scenes in the pub demonstrate a depressingly unreconstructed male environment. London is, here, not a healthy location for a single young woman.

It's not an easy film to write about - like any surrealist-influenced film, it's easier to experience it than to analyse it. Revisiting it last week reminded me that it's a genuinely scary horror film that provides an intriguing twist on the British 'kitchen sink' movie.

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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 05 Apr 2009, 07:17

Indeed. I don't think this movie's is trying to supply clear reasons for why she is like she is. There's lots of objects that Polanski has planted there and invited us to interpret however we desire. They seem to suggest how intense everyday experience is for her and help us see the world from her perspective.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby The Modernist » 13 Aug 2010, 12:08

bump for moving,

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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby John Mc » 02 Apr 2011, 23:46

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:
Sneelock wrote:I saw it on a double bill with "in the realm of the senses"


:o Holy shit.

What sick fuck put those two together? I'd never get out of therapy.


I've not seen 'Repulsion' for some years, but I do recall we were given a screening of the film at school when I was around 16 (which is 40 odd years ago) - great stuff for formative adolescent minds!

In retrospect I don't know why we had the screenings (part of General Studies?) but the others that I can recall: 'If', 'Persona', 'The War Game' (Peter Watkins), 'Dt Faustus' (the one with Richard Burton) and a rather grim Chabrol film ('Le boucher''?)

Certainly the Polanski and the Watkins' both messed with my head somewhat. Thank goodness that 'In the realm of the senses' (presumably) wasn't available through the BFI at the time!
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Goat Boy » 27 Jul 2016, 10:39

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:
mentalist (slight return) wrote:
Davey the Soul Fraud wrote:[b]In the case of Repulsion, it is only in the very last shot that we overtly realize this fact. It leaves you with one of those "aha" moments that should have been obvious all along. Somehow Polanski keeps the news that all of this is about childhood sexual abuse from taking on the movie of the week banality that almost every other film on the subject has fallen into.

It's interesting you read the film this way. I certainly did and most people would. It suggests as much but it doesn't have to be read that way. For example the box cover in this thread mentions the nightmare world of a virgin's dreams. Maybe she wasn't abused at all. I reckon Repulsion is open to interpretations and maybe intentionally so. In some ways the movie is about how we interpret what we see. Err ... but maybe all films are about that.


Just watched it again.

I'm trying to imagine how one could see the film and not conclude that she'd been abused. I'd forgotten just how many times she envisioned herself being raped. I suppose one could view those as paranoid imaginings out of nowhere, but the theme is so central to her mental state that it seems like an odd interpretation. Occam's razor would suggest that these are at least partially memory. And of course, this would appear to be backed up by the final shot.




I never picked up on that much I have to say. The picture at the end hints at it, maybe, and the little girls haunted, frozen face is memorable and suggestive but I thought her psychosis was not the long term impact of child abuse but her reaction to the predatory misogyny of men she has encountered since puberty. Is Polanski hinting at some kind of root cause? Perhaps but he also clearly shows that Carols revulsion is also very much rooted in her experiences as an attractive adult woman. Walking the streets is intimidating, everywhere she goes men look her up and down. In the beauty salon she hears her clients stories about how awful men are and her sisters married lover is using her for sex. Carol is simultaneously disgusted but intrigued by men. Doesn’t she pick up the shirt of her sisters boyfriend from the floor and smell it before vomiting? Something similar occurs during the rape scenes where there are moments of almost sexual ecstasy alongside the horror. If these were partial memories rooted in childhood sexual abuse I would expect them to be slightly less nuanced. They are dark and troubling fantasies/nightmares. None of which necessarily precludes the sexual abuse angle and Polanski could be combining her own personal fantasties with her own semi-repressed memories of rape but I don’t buy the ending as some kind of “ahh haaa!” moment.
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Quaco » 01 Feb 2017, 01:46

the masked man wrote:The 60s London in this film resolutely refuses to swing, though there are brief hints of a life that is eluding the main character here. More precisely, it is the bleak apartment she lives in that echoes her state of mind and eventually consumes her. A while ago, I considered the existence of a previously unrecognised genre I dubbed 'architectural cinema'. Films belonging to this genre are dominated by one central building, whose atmosphere is so pervasive it almost becomes a character itself. Think of great Hollywood films like Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard. But whereas those films feature grand (if crumbling) mansions, here the film's mood is set by a tiny, claustrophobic apartment. What better place to track a lonely person's mental disintegration? Every crack in the wall, every detail of the interior (those potatoes!) seems infused with symbolic meaning.

Last Tango in Paris, Performance, The Shining . . .
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Re: Film Club - REPULSION

Postby Ghost of Harry Smith » 01 Feb 2017, 03:39

Quacoan wrote:
the masked man wrote:The 60s London in this film resolutely refuses to swing, though there are brief hints of a life that is eluding the main character here. More precisely, it is the bleak apartment she lives in that echoes her state of mind and eventually consumes her. A while ago, I considered the existence of a previously unrecognised genre I dubbed 'architectural cinema'. Films belonging to this genre are dominated by one central building, whose atmosphere is so pervasive it almost becomes a character itself. Think of great Hollywood films like Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard. But whereas those films feature grand (if crumbling) mansions, here the film's mood is set by a tiny, claustrophobic apartment. What better place to track a lonely person's mental disintegration? Every crack in the wall, every detail of the interior (those potatoes!) seems infused with symbolic meaning.

Last Tango in Paris, Performance, The Shining . . .


Rosemary's Baby, Barton Fink.