Possession (1981)


Andrzej Zulawski’s film of blistering power, Possession, is a transgressive powerhouse that dissects the destruction between a man and a woman and a tentacled monstrosity, yes, I said that right, a tentacled abomination that appears to be the fruition of the apocalypse. Furthermore, this film observes the disintegration of sanity like no other. Possession, unfortunately, has gained not so much bravura as other cult titles such as Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Eraserhead etc, this is mainly due to the film going (temporarily) out of print, it wasn’t available on DVD for some time both in Europe and the States. It was banned in the UK during the mid-eighties and labelled as a video nasty. Only in 2010 did we finally see the masterpiece make its migration to DVD/Blu-ray and oh, how stoked I was upon hearing such news. Despite that, it wasn’t until recently that I managed to grab a copy.

It follows Anna (Isabelle Adjani) and Mark (Sam Neil); a happily married couple until Mark comes back from a business trip to find out that Anna wants a divorce. Mark is somewhat confused by Anna’s hostility, almost neglecting the sincerity of her announcement as he continues to express how much he still loves her. They undergo a torrid storm of emotions until Anna reveals that she has been having an affair with a man called Heinrich. In his frustration, he has a private investigation follow Anna in relation to her carnal doings. However, there’s something more sinister behind it all…

The concepts in this film are multi-layered, its themes and ideas are transfigured throughout, causing most audiences to misinterpret the labyrinthine plot…as such as it is. I, personally, find that Zulawski’s film is a work of many meanings. Perhaps the only person in the world that truly understands it is its writer/director. The first hour is a relentless, almost maddening portrayal of a marriage breaking down. The dialogue is pretty much screamed and bellowed; you can almost feel the hatred and pain in the protagonists that’s played exceptionally well by Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neil. There’s an anxiety that’s almost tactile between them both, a physicality even. The vehemence advances as the characters gather tendencies to self-harm as well as hurt each other yet, you cannot help but think whether this aggression is somewhat sexual in a sort of masochistic way. All of the madness is witnessed externally and it lacks emotion yet the cold brutality is unflinching. As the marriage collapses, it is then that we, as an audience, notice that there’s something not quite right about this film. It unravels with a deluded maelstrom of symbolisms. The physicality I mentioned earlier that almost becomes apparent is perhaps, a symbolism of the monster that Adjani’s character goes on to have intercourse with? Or is it something bigger than that? A precursor to the end of days maybe or is it just an inhuman force that she willingly embraces in her manic depressive despondency? Even the location where the film is set (Berlin) is a symbol – WWII, Berlin Wall…

One of the greatest scenes in cinema history unfolds in this film as Adjani’s character descends into a fit of torment within the confines of a passageway. Still to this day, it sends nerves into a jittering mess not just because of what we actually see but the disturbingly perfect performance from Adjani. She did win a Cannes award (French form of an Oscar) for her depiction and quiet rightly so. Sam Neil excels also as the intense and obsessive Mark that spirals out of control. The special effects are extraordinary too; Carlo Rambaldi (E.T, Alien, Dune) created the foreboding menace that resides in the darkened room situated in the epicentre of Berlin. When Rambaldi is asked of the film, he negates it as if it doesn’t exist, he has also been known to retort it as something that’s ‘too strange to discuss.’

Possession will crucify you in more ways than one. It’ll destroy most of your preconceptions on what you think you know about cinema. Fans of films with clear meanings steer away from this yet those who enjoy a confrontational challenge, please watch this, it’s such a reward.

Craig Podmore ©

Possession on IMDB
Buy Possession [DVD] [1981]