When Andrzej uławski’s “Possession” made its world premiere at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, it became, with the possible exception of the European debut “Heaven’s Gate”, the most controversial of the year’s entries. The film also earned Isabelle Adjani, along with her work in the “Quartet. James Ivory,” the award for Best Actress. However, when released in Europe, “Possession” was not a box-office success and would become a well-known list of so-called “video nasties.” ” which was banned in the UK for its content deemed harmful. In America, reception was even worse—it wouldn’t be released for another two years and when it did, it was dumped just before Halloween with a third of its run time removed in an attempt to make it resemble an outright horror item. , inspired mostly terrible reviews from the few critics who bothered to see it.
But the fame surrounding the film ensured that a cult would develop around it for years, even in America, where the full-length version eventually appeared at repertoire screenings and occasional shows on TCM. Now, to mark the film’s 40th anniversary, a new 4K restoration has arrived. Watching “Possession” again is to realize that it remains one of the most exhausting, powerful, and incredibly intense cinematic experiences you can have in your life.
Since the plot of the film is extremely complex (God only knows how it played out in that shortened version) and relies on an outrageous number of surprises, I’ll keep my summary brief. Set in West Berlin, the film opens when spy Mark (Sam Neill) returns home from his latest espionage mission to find out that his wife, Anna (Isabelle Adjani) wants a divorce. Mark very reluctantly agrees to move out and leaves their young son, Bob (Michael Hogben), in Anna’s custody, and then continues the binge drinking. After that, he returned to the apartment and was horrified to learn that Bob had been abandoned for some time. When Anna returned, Mark insisted on staying with them, not wanting to leave Bob alone with him again. He takes off again in the middle of the night and Mark gets a call from his girlfriend, Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), informing him that she is staying with him.
The already chaotic situation immediately became even more bizarre. Mark meets Helen, Bob’s schoolteacher, and is surprised to learn that she looks so much like Anna. Mark visits Heinrich, who insists that he hasn’t seen Anna in a long time and then beats up Mark. When Anna shows up, they also fight—one altercation ends with each cutting themselves with an electric knife—before she runs away again. Mark finally decides to hire a private detective to follow Anna around to find out where she lives and what she’s doing. Detectives eventually discovered that he had taken another apartment in the run-down building and decided to go inside to investigate further.
It is at this point that I will say nothing more about what happened next. Suffice it to say, it quickly becomes clear that the pain, suffering, and borderline hysteria on full display in the opening scene is just a mere prelude to the I would also point out that this film involves the work of special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi and his contribution is very far, both in appearance and temperament, from ET, the character he will show the world next year, which seems impossible. both come from the same person.
Working in English for the only time in his career, Zuławski drew inspiration from his 1976 divorce from actress Małgorzata Braunek, turning the resulting anger and depression into cinematic primal screams as few moviegoers at the time experienced or have experienced. since. It’s a million times removed from the date banality of “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) and the like — perhaps the only thing that comes close to it is David Cronenberg’s “The Brood” (1979) another film that examines the emotional impact of divorce through the prism of horrific horror film and even that incredible effort seems almost subdued compared to this one. The scenes where Mark and Anna tear each other apart are done with such rage and ferocity that you almost feel as if you’re interfering with something you shouldn’t be seeing, but they’re so compelling and so intense you can’t look away.
One reason for this is the incredible performance of Adjani, whose work here is a high-wire act for the ages that starts with him at 11 on an emotional scale and quickly goes further without ever getting off track. Considering that this is the kind of script that most of the stars, even the bolder and bolder ones, pay people a fortune to keep away from them as far as possible, I can’t say what attracted Adjani to the role but something about it definitely clicked, when he threw himself into it with an intensity most could never dream of. This is most evident during the core scene, a flashback in which she recounts the severe miscarriage she suffered in a subway tunnel during Mark’s absence and which she said resulted in a nervous breakdown. Recently,
From its hypnotizing opening moments—helped not in the least by contributions from cinematographer Bruno Nuytten (who now looks better than ever, albeit in a largely gray and grubby way) and composer Andrzej Korzyński—to his truly final moments. eerie, “Possession” is a singular work of art that, now viewed in the form it was intended for, deserves to be considered one of the supreme horror films of its era. That said, for all the gruesome occurrences (and there have been many), it’s more of an emotional horror exercise and on that level, it’s downright devastating. “Possession” is one of those movies that you will either love or hate, but which you will never forget, no matter how much you wish you could.