The history of Roman Polanski is almost as fascinating as his best films. Born in Poland, he survived the holocaust, and married Sharon Tate, who was murdered by the Manson family.
In the late 70’s he fled America because he was charged with rape in a nasty public case that has led many to decry the artist as a terrible human being. Polanski may be a miserable little shit of a human being, but he also directed Knife in the Water, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Pianist. He also directed one of the greatest feminist horror movies with Repulsion. If absolutely nothing else, the man is filled with interesting contradictions. My review is after the jump.
Catherine Deneuve stars Carole Ledoux, a young French manicurist living in London. She lives with her sister Helene (Yvonne Furneaux) and has something of a boyfriend in Colin (John Fraser). Helene has a boyfriend in Michael (Ian Hendry) who is also married. Carole hates Michael, and throws away his belongings at their house. When Helene and Michael go off for a romantic tip together abroad, Carole is left on her own. And so she begins to unravel.
From the get go, Carole is objectified by men, and work conversations often turn to men. None of this interests Carole. There is a brief intimation that Carole is a lesbian, but she’s also pre-sexual in her way. When her boyfriend wants to make out she runs away. Her boyfriend’s friends pressure Colin into moving faster, as all they care about is getting into people’s pants. But the longer Carole spends on her own, the more she falls into her own paranoia.
Borrowing somewhat from Jean Cocteau, what was conceived as a quickly thriller achieves a preternatural brilliance in Polanski’s hands. The film spells out her downward spiral in terms of sexuality, and it’s made brilliant both by Deneuve’s breathtaking beauty, and her excellent performance. Few filmmakers have capture the essence of objectification of women as potently. In her dementia, in one of the film’s greatest images, she can’t walk a corridor in her flat without being groped. And though it honors the conventions of the genre, it transcends them. It’s truly one of the great horror movies, and one of the best feminist horror films. This may not jibe with people’s feelings towards Polanski, but that is the movie without the baggage.
The Criterion collection’s Blu-ray is a stunner. The film is presented widescreen (1.78:1) and in 1.0 mono, and the black and white photography is breathtaking. The image is revelatory, and suggests how great Blu-ray can be for older films if transferred well. Also included is a commentary by Polanski and Denevue, recorded for the Criterion laserdisc of ages past. Also included is the Blue Underground documentary “A British Horror Film” (24 min.) which talks to Polanski, DP Gil Taylor, production designer Seamus Flannery, producer Gene Gutowski and executive producer Ton Tenser. It speaks more to the making and release than the commentary, and is laudatory. “Grand Ecan” (22) was done for French television and shows the film being shot, and features interviews with Polanski and Deneuve. Also included are two trailers.