Possession – Andrzej Żuławski

9 Sep

Pros: One of the finest horror tales ever.  Period.  Superb depiction of a decaying and impossible relationship when love and hate are no longer opposites.  Incredible enigmatic last scene.  Breathtaking performance from both leading roles.

Cons:  None.  Almost perfect in every way.


In a way, this film perfectly captures everything that is wrong with the horror world.  Not in the film itself of course – I would stick my neck out and call Possession one of the finest horror films, in the familiar sense of the word, ever to be created – but in the reaction to it.  It is a searing, mindblowing view that leaves you stunned and drained and shaking all over with that feeling of having experienced something truly and emotionally powerful.  And that is a positive feeling.  At least – it is a searing, mindblowing view if you watch the proper original unmauled version.  The (first) American version on the other hand was released under the name “The Night the Screaming Stops” (!?) and was cut by an incredible 45 minutes, effectively turning it into an incoherent, empty gore-fest.  Why people felt the need to turn a powerful masterpiece into an empty gore-fest – I don’t know!  The minds of the censors and cutters are a mystery to me.



Aside from that, the film has proved controversial and provoked strong negative feelings.  but I really don’t understand why.  In a world of various Saw movies and Texas Chainsaw Massacres and Cannibal Holocausts, why should this film get such a stormy reception?  Some films are indeed out to shock you – and that is a perfectly valid creative tactic in some cases.  Not this one though.  Not directly. I am not even going to dignify the more ‘extreme’ scenes in the film by discussing them in terms of their controversial value.  It has a ‘creature’ in it, and a certain amount of blood and violence, and a painful and very sad scene where Adjani has first a fit, then a miscarriage in a berlin subway – but there is nothing even close to many films which look more like a badly cooked red soup than a story!  When I first watched Possession, I was almost nervous, expecting something to live up to that controversy and maybe cheapen itself in the process – but instead I found myself staring at a superbly and subtly told movie that is out to do nothing more than tell its story with icy and uncompromising precision and bluntness and make you feel the emotional agony that the characters feel – very human emotions, supremely well presented.  And even the movie’s ‘monster’ stands as nothing more than a direct extension and externalisation of that.  Something born from the horror of human emotions rather than something that comes rampaging in from nowhere and causes those emotions.  If this amazing film has a ‘real’ horror, it is the portrayal of the physical and psychological and emotional mess that humans are capable of tangling themselves in their relationships with each other.  That is the pain and he shock of the film.  The fact that the film is set in Berlin in the time of the Wall, also adds an additional and very creepy element to the brew, making this film another example of the cinema connected with places that were once beyond the Iron curtain.




So why the controversy?  Aside from the obvious faff with authorities still not recovered from the communist mentality, in the end I cant avoid the conclusion: it appears that there was no reason beyond the simple power of the thing, which must have unnerved people who expected the blood and guts and lack of emotional involvement that comes with a ‘horror’ flick.  Both Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neil put on such a spectacular performance that it was no longer possible to see this as a horror movie and suddenly the horror elements were right there, in the face and forcing you to deal with them at a much deeper level that Saw 27 or Chainsaw Massacre Seriously Ultimate Edition.  You cant just comfortably dismiss either Adjani or Neil as a psycho and sit back and enjoy the fun as the pretty girls get murdered.  And that makes the US cut release of the film nothing more than an attempt to bring the film down to the level of American horror.  To clip its wings if you like.  Needless to say – if you look for this film, make sure it is the uncut version you are buying – even if it means paying a little more or getting it imported from an obscure location.  We all owe Żuławski that much.



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