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July 2010

Repulsion

cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, and Yvonne Furneaux

director: Roman Polanski

100 minutes (18) 1965
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Odeon DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Ian Sales

Repulsion

It's anybody's guess if posterity will remember Roman Polanski for fleeing the US in 1977 after admitting to having sexual intercourse with a minor, and remaining a fugitive from US justice for nearly 30 years, or for his many films. Some of his oeuvre will certainly stand the test of time. Repulsion, his first feature in English, is unlikely to be one of them; which is not to say it's a bad film... On the contrary, it's an accomplished and effectively unsettling piece of cinema. But other events and films have subsequently loomed larger in Polanski's life since, and in the life of Repulsion's star Catherine Deneuve.

Belgian Carole (Catherine Deneuve) is a manicurist at a beauty salon in London. She shares a cramped flat with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux), who is having an affair with a married man, Michael (Ian Hendry). Several nights a week, Michael visits the flat, and Carole cannot sleep for the noise of him making love to her sister. Meanwhile, Colin (John Fraser) has taken a fancy to Carole, and wants to go out with her, but she seems strangely reluctant...

Left alone when Helen and Michael go away to Italy for a holiday, Carole's fragile hold on reality worsens. She refuses to leave the flat and suffers frightening hallucinations. Colin breaks into the flat and Carole beats him to death. When the landlord comes to collect the rent Helen has left for him, and then tries to force his attentions on Carole, she snaps and kills him with a razor. When Helen returns, she finds two dead men and a catatonic Carole.

Repulsion documents Carole's descent into madness; and it's effectively done. Polanski uses sound to indicate her insanity, harkening back to the nights Carole spent unable to sleep for the noise made by Helen and Michael having sex. Hands appear from the walls of the apartment, reaching out for Carole and she stumbles past. It's an unsettling method of indicating Carole's state of mind, and works extremely well.

In the first half of the film, Deneuve plays Carole as somewhat expressionless. She does not seem to know how to react to the people about her. Perhaps this was deliberate, a way of emphasising her later madness. Unfortunately, it has the unwanted effect of making her a difficult character with which to initially sympathise. She is a blank, and it's hard to care about her - especially after rebuffing Colin for no discernible reason. Despite this, the final act in which she goes mad is still quite shocking.

These days, Repulsion is perhaps more of a curiosity than anything else. The horror/ psychological suspense genre has moved on considerably in the 45 years since it was first released. Like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho - also filmed in black and white - Polanski's Repulsion is chiefly interesting for the storytelling techniques used by the director. Unlike Psycho, its story has not entered popular culture, and is unlikely to ever do so. Repulsion is worth seeing, but it'll never be a classic.



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