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POSSESSION (1981).

Actress Isabelle Adjani is hot right now, arthouse successes like QUEEN MARGOT and CAMILLE CLAUDEL (not to mention, U.S. swill like DIABOLIQUE). But here's her weirdest screen appearance, without question. Director Andrzej Zulawski headed up this multi-national hodgepodge (French actress, Australian actor, German locations, et cetera), and keeps the proceedings at a fever pitch from its first moments, creating a goofy, overdirected vision of the breakdown of a relationship. Best of all, the film is completely unapologetic for its unrelenting hysteria. Despite the Tilt-a-Whirl technique, I found much of it stunning, though it's no surprise the pic only made it to U.S. theatres in a hacked-to-shreds 80 minute version. For the record, I've waded through the full 2 hour European cut... The lovely Adjani co-stars with Sam Neill (THE PIANO) as an estranged married couple. Isabelle has left her hubbie for someone else, and after Sam endures a nervous breakdown (complete with spasms and psychotic trances), he confronts Adjani about her mystery "man". All the while, we get to experience their emotional deterioration and detonation -- from screaming and wailing and whacking each other, to Adjani bugging her eyes out and slicing herself with an electric carving knife (an action which only prompts Neill to copycat her, proving they're both nutcases and probably deserve each other). Overall, it makes THE WAR OF THE ROSES look like FATHER KNOWS BEST. And all the while, the camera spins, swoops and runs amok, as if the director of photography was on PCP (in fact, the camerawork was by Adjani's future bed-mate, Bruno Nuytten, who later directed CAMILLE CLAUDEL). It's the first movie in which the audience will need Dramamine in order to simply watch a guy in a rocking chair. Oh, and did I mention that special effects wiz Carlos Rambaldi worked on this production? His job was to create Adjani's mysterious lover, which turns out to be a slimy, tentacled fish-like creature she gives on-screen birth to in a subway tunnel. The creature is some type of physical manifestation of her emotional turmoil, and she immediately takes it home and starts fucking it (yes, the lucky viewer gets to see this juicy duo, too)... And I bet you thought the first hour sounded demented, eh? Finally, in a REPULSION-esque style, Adjani begins brutally murdering any visitors who uncover her secret... Zulawski takes the breaking point which many people in shattered relationships go through, and splatters it onto the screen like a primal scream brought to life. The performances are laughably overblown (still, Adjani won overseas accolades for her hand-wringing and lump-fucking), and at times it doesn't make a lick of sense. At others I was roaring at its brazen dementia... It's a difficult movie which veers wildly between the Asinine and the Unforgettable, and is packed with disorienting compositions and images. I was thoroughly impressed by its wrongheaded audacity, while finding myself touched by some of the razor-edged pain on display. Overall, an odd, disturbing mish-mash of monsters, mayhem and emotional meltdowns. If only more movies could be so daring.

© 1991 by Steven Puchalski.