Roman Polanski’s controversial English-language debut stars Catherine Deneuve as Carol, a beautiful, frigid young woman whose grasp on reality begins to crumble when she’s left alone in her sister’s London flat.
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After watching it for the second time the film is still disturbing - especially if you listen to the strongly modelled, suggestive sound design with its dripping and floating water, ticking clocks, the intrusive ringings of telephone, door bell and chimes, the steps on the stairway the cracking of the walls and other sounds.
My favorite Polanski thus far is reminiscent of Bergman's Persona both in it's cinematography and it's similar surreal horror. It also trails the path through which Cronenberg would build himself his whole career around. Honestly, as someone who has a habit of biting my nails since childhood (I'm biting them as I write this), it's impact was probably even more enhanced. Few films capture the body's fragility so well.
Polanski's love letter to Hitchcock - the title, the aloof blonde, the late period B&W - is an ultra low-budget, beatnik 'Psycho' (with a few sprinkles of 'Persona'), a claustrophic, misanthropic take on London's swinging sixties. (For those commenters questioning her motives, it's all there in that brilliant final shot.)
Polanski became synonymous with what we describe as the "Horror of Apartments" sub-sub-Genre when he made 'Repulsion', 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Tenant' (his trilogy of the terror that comes psychologically in Apartment settings). With Repulsion Polanski crafts a tightly wound spiraling decent into madness as Deneuve gives one of her striking performances. The film is terrifying, plain and simple. You will jump.
The hands in latex, the old woman with the little dog, the fat lady's chopped finger, the man in the mirror, nuns in black & white, flies over a dead rabbit's head, Deneuve's hair, Catherine's legs, Hendry in the water, the swelling apartment. An anthology of superb scenes. Masterpiece.
Repulsed by toxic masculinity and alienated by the urban rat race (shown VIA the sister and her rich boyfriend,) Repulsion is glacial, detached, and languid. Yet, the clinical passivity increasingly sucks you into a soulless vacuum until you reach an inner void. Emotionally powerful by being coldly emotional, it gets you feeling dead inside, like Deneuve's character. I'd compare it to the music of Joy Division.
Aesthetic/cinematic porn! In that sense, it's pretty ecstatic. Rhythm, pacing, cinematography... But the assumptions he seeks to undermine are a bit unsophisticated, aren't they? Like, easy prey? And the work is informed by and infused with its (his) own problematic world-view... (What if a Sweet Innocent Girl could be complex? Why, then she'd be out of control! The horror scenario of the patriarchy.)
Hegel had a sister, Christiane Luise, who so loved her brother that she went mad after his wedding. Something similar happens in REPULSION. Polanski and co-writer Gérard Brach rarely provide psychological basis to Carol, the frigid beauty played by Catherine Deneuve. We see only what Carol sees: the relived horrors of childhood (rape?) or nightly visitations by demonic, old neighbors that lust for her virgin body.