Repulsion1

“Poor little girl. All by herself. All shaking like a little frightened animal.” When we first meet Belgian manicurist Carole (Catherine Deneuve), she appears to be a little … absent minded. What at first seem like daydreams, are soon revealed to be the early signs of madness. She lives with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) in London, in a flat that is frequented by Helen’s married lover (Ian Hendry). Carole opposes Helen’s affair. In fact, she seems to oppose men in general, including (but not limited to) the man after her own affections (John Fraser) and her domineering landlord (Patrick Wymark). Despite Carole’s pleas, Helen absconds to Italy with her partner for a romantic interlude. Almost immediately, Carole is tormented by ghoulish beasts, both real and imagined. What follows is 80 minutes of relentless, slow-burn horror.

Repulsion2

Roman Polanski’s Repulsion’s closest relatives are David Lynch’s Eraserhead (a picture that was clearly inspired by Polanski’s unsettling use of imagery) and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (which similarly features a female protagonist driven to madness by the sexual cruelty of the men in her life). The young Catherine Deneuve (she was 22 at the time of filming) gives a performance so unsettling and so precise, I can barely believe she grew into such a confident screen presence. And although Polanski spoke about this film’s technical imperfections, I think he should go easy on himself. Few directors are bold enough to commit to a 100-minute character study with absolutely no plot. Besides, Polanski has plenty of other things to feel guilty about…