Possession (1981) | A look back at Andrzej Zulawski’s notorious marital horror from beyond the Berlin Wall
In honour of the passing this week of the 75-year-old Polish director Andrzej Zulawski, here’s a look back his shock art masterpiece Possession.
If you like your cinema dark, twisted and served with visual flair, then the 1981 German/French horror drama Possession might be just the ticket. Set in the former West Berlin, this once controversial arthouse thriller stars Aussie actor Sam Neill as a government agent called Mark and Isabelle Adjani (who would win both a César and a Cannes award for her role) as his adulterous wife Anna. Theirs is a marriage in total meltdown…
When Anna’s affair with the charismatic Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) comes to light, Anna goes into hiding, leaving Mark to look after their young son, Bobby. Alone with her guilt and self-loathing, Anna miscarries – an event that tips her over the edge into madness, resulting in self-mutilation, violent outbursts of rage and murder.
Possession is not an easy film to watch, but Adjani and Neil’s performances are mesmerising. Rich in metaphors, surrealist poetics and excessive symbolism, it has a trippy, dream-like incoherence that breaks all the rules about narrative structure. And this is all down to Żuławski who channelled his own psychological journey (over his own marital breakdown) into celluloid – making this more a visionary nightmare than a horror movie per se.
Though it does have elements of horror – especially the monstrous creature lurking in the shadows of Anna’s mind (courtesy of sfx legend Carlo Rambaldi) – the surreal inclusion of doppelgangers (Mark starts dating a teacher who looks just like Anna, while Anna’s creature becomes a clone of Mark); Kafkaesque spy intrigue (Mark is being hounded to move up in the spy agency); and the occult (Heinrich is portrayed as a black magician) makes it reminiscent of the works of Luis Buñuel and Alejandro Jodorowsky. As such, Possession is film as art.
Bewildering, hysterical and highly esoteric, this is one film you will not forget, but also the perfect introduction into the cinema of its late director. Just don’t watch this with someone you are about to break up with, and please don’t ask me to explain the final apocalyptic scene.
THE SECOND SIGHT BLU-RAY
In 2013, Second Sight released a re-mastered Blu-ray of the cult horror with a host of extrass. These included the making-of featurette, The Other Side of the Wall, audio commentaries with director Zulawski and co-writer Frederic Tuten, an interview with the director, a look at the Video Nasty furore that surrounded the release of the film’s UK release in 1981, interviews with composer Andrzej Korzynski and producer Christian Ferry, a feaurette on the film’s poster artist Basha, and theatrical trailer.