Possession

Dir. Andrzej Zulawski, 1981
My friend Chris came over for his first viewing of Zulawski’s monsterpiece, my third viewing. Chris greatly enjoyed it, as did I, and after hearing the commentary track, I don’t know if I’m closer to really figuring this film out (for example, how to interpret all the Catholicism once you know that Zulawski is an atheist?). I do know that very few American actors would go as far into madness as Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani do here, especially Adjani, whose wild-eyed looks burn a hole in the screen. (“You have no right to film people’s souls!” she reportedly told Zulawski during filming, “This is psychological pornography!”). When Hollywood actors play “crazy” they’re always winking at the audience and/or worrying what their Pilates instructor might think.
What Chris brought up was the wider geopolitical metaphors of the film, which I have yet to really unravel (but which were still there in La Fidelite, a fact no reviewer that I read seemed to even grasp). Set as it is in a divided Berlin, with gloomy shots of the Wall, and with its whole story about separation, loss, madness, doppelgangers, and an apocalyptic close, Possession is about inner and outer worlds ending in much the same way that Don McKellar’s Last Night does.
Possession (of what? of whom? and to what end?) is probably still way ahead of its time, and is the cinematic equivalent of poking a fresh wound with an infected finger, but it’s one of my favorites.

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