Review by David Paul Hellings
Synopsis via Second Sight:
“A horror film like no other, “Possession” is an intense, shocking experience that was banned in the UK as a ‘video nasty’. With its dark subject matter and high gore quotient, it’s not for the faint hearted.
With their marriage in pieces Anna and Mark’s tense relationship has become a psychotic descent into screaming matches, violence and self-mutilation. Believing his wife’s only lover is the sinister Heinrich, Mark is unaware of the demonic, tentacled creature that Anna has hidden away for liaisons in a deserted apartment and will stop at nothing to protect.
Written and directed by Andrzej Żuławski, “Possession” is a deeply unsettling experience, aided by the horrific special effects of the great Carlo Rambaldi (Deep Red, Close Encounters, Alien). The film, though banned on video, was nominated for a BAFTA and the Palme d’Or and Adjani’s astonishing performance earned her Best Actress awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the French Césars”.
Andrzej Żuławski’s 1981 film “Possession” has rightly been declared a masterpiece in horror. The director, himself, has always been severely critical of those who label it a horror film (as it was marketed on its release), but it’s difficult to see it in any other way, perhaps instead an ‘exercise in madness’, a Lovecraftian tale of the breakdown of the minds of two people, and of the divisions between them that result in murder, self harm, psychological destruction, and a relationship between a wife and a monstrous creature that becomes her lover; a monster that she will do anything to protect.
“Possession” is often a film that defies description. That it was banned in the UK says everything about the state of censorship in Britain at that time, especially as Adjani won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival. As the troubled husband, Sam Neill is first rate and shows why he would go on to such a successful career; but Adjani is simply at another level altogether. Effectively blacklisted in France at the time due to her reputation for being difficult, Adjani’s performance is exceptional and possibly the finest of her career. The famous subway miscarriage scene is a clear example of an actress simply abandoning herself to the truth of the moment and is harrowing to watch. Her descent into madness and the extremes to which she will go to protect her monster lover are remarkable.
Shot in then West Berlin, as close to the Wall as was physically possible, “Possession” is a film about the divide between two people and the damage it brings to both of them. It is challenging film to watch, but once seen, never forgotten as you see the journey of two characters into the depths of unspeakable madness. Director Andrzej Żuławski, unable to work in Poland due to the political repression that saw his previous film shut down in the final stages of production and all elements of it, including the sets, destroyed by the authorities, was clearly in a place of rage at the time he made “Possession” and it shows. The short tempered director was the perfect man to keep Adjani in check claiming that, apart from one disagreement over the green contact lenses her alternate school teacher character wore, Adjani was the perfect professional, even travelling on the Berlin subway at 5am each day to get to the set.
There is a dark, surreal tone at times, reflecting the growing madness of the characters. It is a picture of the worst excesses of a self-destructive marriage magnified beyond reason into the world of insanity. Starkly shot and utilising the world within a city by the Berlin Wall, it is a film that would never have been made in the UK or US. Ignored for almost three decades since its release, it is a film that is finally gaining the reputation it deserves.
Among the excellent special features, the illuminating interview with Andrzej Zulawski and the ‘making of’ documentary should be the viewers’ first port of call, offering fascinating insights into the making of a masterpiece.
A remarkable film that must be seen. Highly recommended.
‘THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL’ – The Making of Possession
AUDIO COMMENTARY with co-writer FREDERIC TUTEN, moderated by Daniel Bird
‘REPOSSESSED’ – The film’s UK and US reception, the ‘video nasties’ furore and the US recut
‘A DIVIDED CITY’ The Berlin locations
‘THE SOUNDS OF POSSESSION’ – An exclusive interview with composer Andrzej Korzynski about his working relationship with Andrzej Zulawski
‘OUR FRIEND IN THE WEST’ – An exclusive interview with legendary producer Christian Ferry
‘BASHA’ – A new featurette on Polish artist Barbara ‘Basha’ Baranowska, who created the famed poster for Possession.
ANDRZEJ ZULAWSKI INTERVIEW
This review is for the Blu ray released by Second Sight.
This review originally appeared on SFFWorld: