Possession Andrzej Zulawski (Fr 1981)

, 2013-03-08

 Possession Andrzej Zulawski (Fr 1981) Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill

Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema; 28 Feb 13; Ticket £5

 retrocrit: Shot to death

Set in Berlin in about 1980, Zulawski's (AZ) Possession (P) was presumably intended to echo back, in its psycho-sexual schizoid script, as an allegorical comment on divided condition of Germany exemplified by Berlin split in two by its East-West Wall and the rise of European revolutionary terrorist groups. Art house intellectual horror was perhaps his intention.

The opening shots track down a length of the Wall from the West looking over to the East, an enclosed vista of boarded up delapidation and dereliction. Z then cuts to another kind of architectural statement, a marble clad corporate headquarters with serried columns, inside of which festers some kind of state twilight agency. This agency employs Mark, in a non specific capacity, and seems to have a sinister perhaps menacing security remit.

And as a set up that's it. There is not much else that is cogently fed into the script to enable the viewer to read signs in the film as to what it is about: it might be an quasi- allegorical political piece, or something else even less specific than the agency. Perhaps that is the point. However the film was made at the height of the activity of left wing revolutionary cells in Europe in Italy the Red Brigade and in Western Germany the Red Army Faction, Bader-Meinhof activists. Both these groups and the various spin off revolutionary cells, entered into a train of murderous killings and assassinations justified both by revolutionary liberation rhetoric borrowed from South America and traditional European Anarchism and Maoist-Marxism; driven by a naif belief in the USSR and China, and mistrust of the neo-fascism they perceived at the root of the Italian and German democracies in particular and Western democracies in general.

Public shock in Europe in the 70's and 80's, at the appearance of revolutionary groups in their midst was further increased by the realisation that the members of the groups hailed form the prosperous educated middle classes and that women were at the core of these revolutionary groups. Given that women had always played a prominent role in revolution (Rosa Luxembourg; the nihilist groups of Russia in the 1870's) this was hardly a surprise. What was different was that this era was the time of the paparazzi. Sex sold magazines and newspapers, and revolutionary women were 'hot dangerous dolls'! Dolls being the operative word as women were scorned as independent agents so it was the convenient working assumption that they were literally screwed into belief, by the ultimate succubus, the revolutionary monster. So although it is in fact poorly sketched out, and ultimately AZ seems to have lost interest in the political allegorical model whilst making his film, this is still the path that seems to be suggested allegorially at least, that is taken by Anna in P.

Anna, despite being a mother, abandons her husband (who is away a lot doing whatever) first, for a new age lover who having practiced all the correct Tantric exercises knows how to fuck her good. She still continues to try and pass as if she's leading a 'normal' life but, sexual degradation at some undefined point in the movie, starts to invest her being and she ends up in East Berlin the sex slave of a sort slimy betenticled squid like monster, who fucks the brains out of her. It all ends badly of course (as it did with the Red army Faction and like) in stake outs, shoot outs and a final Armageddon. Oddly enough as part of the narrative development AZ introduces during the second stage of Anna's corruption (when she abandons her child) a sort of doppelganger for Anna in the form of Helen (also played by Adjani) as a good Anna, the Anna that Anna was supposed to be, but had split from, introducing another schizo level in the film, which again fails to add up to or mean anything, just hangs limply like another dead branch on AZ's tree.

In fact the remains of the allegorical structure are so slight that I felt as if I was pulling it together from an intense reading of its residual signs. It's possible this reading might be purely fanciful. But in itself this attempt at reading indicates the movies core weakness: it doesn't have a core. Z has shot a film empty of any force moving through either its structure or content that makes for a coherent set of responses to the material. As such P lacks tension. Even the shot, presumably supposed to be the “WoW' moment in the movie, when we see the creature fucking Anna, panders to voyeurism rather than to horror, affect rather than effect; in revealing this in all its full on imagery, the monster becomes a joke rather than a force. Although the shot is rated by the supporters of the movie, this is as voyeurs ( nothing wrong with this in itself); but direct gazing upon this scene adds nothing to the movie as a whole.

Polanski's REPULSION, on which some elements of the film certainly the Anna roll has been modelled, has the defining characteristic of being a forceful expression of a dark carnal degeneration. Repulsion knows what it is about where it is going, and takes the viewer on the appropriate cinematic ride. AZ's P, its sketchy (perhaps inexistent) allegorical structure, is fuzzy and unspecific. It takes the viewer nowhere; rather offers them 'moments': pink socks, the beast, nasty slayings of people as if they were sacrificial victims (RAF) some fun cod philosophical dialogue, and architecture. But everything slithers into inconsequentiality.

One key element of the film holds it together that makes it watchable.

Bruno Nuytten's camera work is extraordinary, embedded not just into the structure but in the possible reading of P. The camera constantly suggests the possibility of effect. The camera, tracks, floats reveals and penetrates. The movement of the camera through architecture of the 60's apartment with its corridors, right angles and blocked fields of vision, captures the menace that suddenly appears in the core of the relationships of the family. The camera understands this space. The tracks that float out from close-up scrutiny of a scene to wide shot, powerfully suggest the opening out of awareness to a new dimension. The reveals such as across Mark and Anna as they lie in their bed, the penetration of the camera into the darkness, all prime the viewer to expectation. However the expectation is all there is, as after these camera movements, the viewer is usually dropped back into incoherent void that comprises P. But in itself the camera movement is so assured and composed that it holds the incoherence together. The final shot, around the spiral staircase, although empty in content is so full of architectural form, as to almost be complete in itself.

Adrin Neatrour