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Critics reviews
Possession
Andrzej Żuławski France, 1981
This dingy, claustrophobic fever-dream factory points to the origins of Żuławski’s fragmented, hysterical style: in a wartime reality where even relative safety resembled the stuff of nightmares.
April 21, 2018
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Trying to synopsize Possession is next to impossible because it’s a film that has the feel and texture of a nervous breakdown; it’s cinema as fugue state. And Adjani, who won Best Actress at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, is the whirling dervish at the center of it all. Few actresses have ever been given scenes to play like the one where Anna writhes through a subway tunnel as the camera turns pirouettes around her. It’s intense, terrifying, and unforgettable.
September 21, 2017
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…It is this directness, this clear and present horror that makes Possession so great and singular. Filmed in West Berlin, the film bears both the scars of World War II and the botched reconstructive surgery of the city’s Cold War division. A more politically minded film might have looked to the Wall as a metaphor for the disruptive and destructive separation between the couple. But Possession, like a Stephen King novel, consumes and obliterates social anxieties in favor of the primal.
March 28, 2016
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Possession isn’t just a monster picture. It’s a marital drama, a tainted romance, a black comedy, an oblique espionage thriller and a psychotronic allegory that unfolds at an absurdly, even farcical pace. Before watching it again recently, following its director’s death from cancer at the age of 75, I had forgotten just how funny the film is. Bleak, yes, but with an all-out commitment to well-timed sight gags that makes the whole thing endearing.
March 12, 2016
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That fundamentally vulgar structure, the triangle, is a starting point in Andrzej Zulawski’s grand and shivery art-therapy hallucination, a burlesque farrago of domestic dramas played close and fast in a distinctively Polish register. Emotional mayhem is the language, the world split between blanched tiles and soiled wallpaper is a thin cover for infernal heat, human beastliness ignites from beneath modernity like a string of firecrackers.
February 22, 2016
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A maximalist cousin of David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979), Possession was inspired by Zulawski’s painful separation and divorce from actress Malgorzata Braunek (who played in his first two features), shot in the divided Berlin (making for a memorable time-capsule as well as a typically cryptic political allegory) and infused with an overwhelming bleakness that makes its deferred turn towards full-fledged fantastic horror seem inevitable in retrospect.
February 17, 2016
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For much of its runtime, Possession only reads as a horror movie tonally… The slow-burning unease this unknowing engenders is an effective approach for any horror film, and while Andrzej Żuławski’s first and only English-language outing is only intermittently frightening in a traditional sense it is aggressively unsettling for its entirety.
October 04, 2013
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[Possession] is on one hand, the simple story of a dissolving marriage, but suggests more complex feelings, desires and yearnings of the flesh… Possession suggests the monstrosity and fragility of the human form and in turn, the insignificance of human interactions. It is as if this realization of hopelessness and powerlessness disrupts entirely the flow of emotions, heightening them to such extremes that they are no longer recognizable as being human.
July 23, 2012
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The noise of the kitchen rises with the tension and Anna, tired of the diatribe, takes an electric knife to her neck. Paired with scenes of their individual genuine tenderness toward their son, POSSESSION is filled with mirrors. Mark meets his son’s schoolteacher, a benevolent doppelganger for his wife, and a double of Mark appears with Anna at the end. Even the setting is exploited for an otherworldly nothingness and an exactness in East and West Germany, itself perversely mirrored.
May 18, 2012
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…The final third of the movie is so nightmarish it’s difficult to synopsize at all. Zulawski is less concerned with telling a story than with putting the viewer through an experience. As if to externalize the pain of romantic separation (not coincidentally, Zulawski conceived of the film just after he and his first wife split), the movie depicts the breakdown of all acceptable behavior and, ultimately, narrative logic itself.
May 16, 2012
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To call it overwrought would be an understatement. Andrzej Żuławski’s 1981 masterpiece, butchered upon its original American release and relegated to spurious video-nasty circulation, is now returning in all its hysterical glory… Żuławski casually punctuates one of the couple’s shouting matches by throwing an unrelated car crash into the shot, just for added emphasis. It’s all like a fast-forwarded Ingmar Bergman film on bad acid; “Scenes from a Marriage” as played in a home-made abattoir.
February 09, 2012
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While it’s hard to describe Zulawski’s experiment as pleasurable, its follies are surely familiar to lovelorn viewers. Fascinating and off-putting, the film ends with perhaps the only possible denouement to a romantic apocalypse; finally, the filmmaker’s orchestration of chaos feels like the natural order of things.
December 05, 2011
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The first half of Possession is peculiar and the second half is bizarre, but it all makes emotional sense; you don’t have to know Andrzej Zulawski wrote it while going through what must have been the mother of all breakups to recognize the emotional rawness and irrational behavior, even after the narrative runs amok.
December 02, 2011
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In the similarly themed and better-acted Antichrist, chaos also reigns, but Lars von Trier brought a form and control that Zulawski either can’t manage or avoids because it’d be inauthentic. Attempting emotionally raw catharsis, Possession‘s shrieking indulgences too often tip it into hysterical nonsense.
November 30, 2011
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Zulawski seems to have subjected his actors to the sort of intense physical and psychological regimen associated with theatrical guru Jerzy Grotowski. Isabelle Adjani… gives the performance of a lifetime—a veritable aria of hysteria—as an increasingly distraught unfaithful wife who (literally) brings her (or our) delusions to life… A movie that has to be seen to be believed, Possession is like Rambaldi’s creature: It isn’t necessarily good, but it is most definitely something.
November 30, 2011
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Possession incorporates more and more fantastical elements as it goes on—-such as a spectacular goo-and-gore-covered creature built by E.T. designer Carlo Rambaldi—-but the story somehow remains rooted in the harsh realities of human experience. That the film is much more than a gawk-at-it freak show is testament to Zulawski’s talent for making even the most exaggerated behavior resonate with pointed and potent emotion.
November 29, 2011
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Many directors have taken full advantage of Adjani’s exotic, ethereal French beauty; only Żuławski saw beyond the exquisite surface to something unsettling. Most disconcerting is the way Adjani can register almost demonic ill-intent while never losing some trace of the alluring.
November 29, 2011
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Those prepared to make the leap of faith demanded by Zulawski’s ultra-confrontational, deliriously overwrought, symbol-crammed approach will find the experience, like that of Ken Russell’s equally maligned The Devils, very hard to forget.
October 29, 2010
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Attaining the screaming pitch of an emergency Caesarean section, Possession doesn’t soft-pedal its horror for the sake of its metaphor, which is easily obscured by the discomfiting bedlam. In fact, the grisly glimpses of Rimbaldi’s hippogriff aren’t nearly as upsetting as the ravenous pas de deux of is protagonists, who come close to simply sinking their canines into each other’s throats.
March 06, 2008
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Even with little prior knowledge of Possession, the viewer is informed of its potential as exploitation horror in Carlo Rambaldi’s opening credit. A special effects designer, Rambaldi worked prior on Deep Red and Flesh for Frankenstein; here, he is ascribed as the designer of some ominous “creature,” his name emblazoned in serif type that extends across the composition, in the same motif used to report the director and cast.
May 23, 2006
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Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) is a celluloid canvas of such intense emotional torment that it can effectively act as a two-hour advertisement about the inescapable dangers of marital union.
April 15, 2005
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