These people are fucking insane! Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way, we can at once proceed in a calm and irrational manner. Before I do that, the mentally sound amongst you may have noticed that I just used the word "irrational" instead of "rational," the combination of sounds that is usually paired with "and" and "calm." Well, that's because I will not let this film's demented disposition affect my longstanding dedication to verbose nonsensicality. Oh, sure, there were numerous occasions where I felt that this film's overt strangeness had the stiletto heel of one of its terribly chic shoes firmly pressed against the creaseless surface of my supple neck. But I managed to wiggle out from under its spiky grip just in the nick of time. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I was somewhat taken aback by Possession, a cryptic entanglement masquerading as a Cold War demon romance. An outlandish undertaking that causes you to use of the entirety of the eyes you use to see with (you don't merely look at it, the film devours the very essence of your soul), writer-director Andrzej Żuławski (On the Silver Globe) has managed to fashion a film that deftly mixes melodrama, art-house-style pretension, scriptural otherworldliness, exploding cars, body horror, a mysterious man with pink socks, green-eyed doppelgängers with intricately tied ponytails, ooze-based eroticism, and moments of genuine surrealism (a banana is unwittingly shared on a train).
Accustomed to viewing films that are, on the surface, entertaining but incompetently made from a technical point-of-view, I was surprised by how adept the filmmaking was throughout this "wacked out" mishegaas. For one thing, I thought the camerawork had a fluidity about it that rendered even the most straightforward scene an involving experience. The best example of this I can think of was when the male protagonist is sitting at a table and the camera pans around the room in an unbroken circular motion. However, it was the way it combined the elements I listed above (eroticism, body horror, pink socks, etc.) that went about placing Possession on the express train to that magical place where cult classics perform overzealous soixante-neuf on each other in the vicinity of a apricot dream.
An expertly made film that features extended acts of underground lunacy, tentacled apartment creatures (created by Carlo Rambaldi) that defy description, and a pair of high heel shoes that elegantly propel an attractive woman from one cockamamie state of existence to another, I couldn't believe that I watching something so deranged, yet so accomplished at the same time. It's a rare treat to find something that is able to fuse together such a diverse blend of batshit crazy and sheer skillfulness.
You'll notice that I haven't touched on the film's plot yet. Those who have seen the film will know why immediately, those who haven't, well, let's just say it's fraught with unforeseen complications. It doesn't start off that way, as the film appears to be about the slow, painful destruction of a marriage between a couple living in West Berlin in the early 1980s (the Berlin Wall is always visible and is an integral part of the film's visual makeup). And while I wouldn't exactly designate Mark (Sam Neill) and Anna's (Isabelle Adjani) romantic imbroglio to be the most healthy one ever to be depicted on film, it does bare the characteristics of a "normal" relationship at times.
They have a young son named "Bob," they fight, they argue, Anna has a lover named Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), and Mark's a tad clingy and likes to fool around Margit (Margit Carstensen), a woman who wears a cast on her left leg. You see, perfectly normal. Nevertheless, things begin to quickly unravel when Anna decides to leave Mark for no particular reason. Pretty soon they're both cutting themselves with electric knives, running through the streets covered in blood, throwing chairs, blowing up stuff and disposing of bodies.
I've been trying to figure out the exact moment when Andrzej Żuławski's Possession actually begins to unleash, what the kids nowadays like to call, "the crazy." Of course, some might say that moment arrived the second Isabelle Adjani greeted Sam Neill outside their modest West Berlin apartment complex in the film's opening scene; there was something off about the way she stood (her posture was very disquieting). Personally, I want to say it happened when the detective (Carl Duering) Mark hires to keep tabs on Anna notices something icky throbbing in the windowless bathroom of her super-secret apartment on the other side of town. But I know for a fact that wasn't the instant where the film's well-balanced veneer was washed away completely.
No, I'd say the scene where a bloodied Anna is seen storming down the street with Mark giving chase is the official kickoff. It actually occurs just as he's about to catch up with her (he's already beginning to claw at her dress) and a truck carrying crushed cars almost runs Anna over after she halfheartedly tried to jump in front of it. The ensuing mayhem causes some of the crushed cars to crash onto the sidewalk and the look on Anna's face during this specific event was the exact moment the madness was allowed to run naked in the backyard–you know, without fear of being subjected to any lopsided glances or judgmental snickering.
Technical proficiency and the precise commencement of crazy aside, it's the stellar performances given by Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani that permit Possession to soar high into the horror-melodrama stratosphere. Unafraid to appear disheveled, lovesick, and unhinged simultaneously, Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) is a distraught mess as Mark, a fidgety (no chair can contain his feeling of restlessness) buttoned-down fella whose devotion to Anna is all-consuming. Literally bouncing off the walls at times, the unassuming Kiwi is a frightening force of spurned fury. His confrontation with Anna at a coffee shop was one of the most uncomfortable scenes I have had the pleasure to witness.
While the adjectives I used to describe Sam's performance could be employed just as liberally when detailing the work of the stunning Isabelle Adjani (Nosferatu the Vampyre), especially "distraught" and "unhinged," the French actress somehow manages to maintain her sexy allure even as her marbles are slowly beginning to escape her dainty grasp. Never appearing on-screen without her trademark mane of brunette hair, an indigo dress, a pair of unruly heels, and two nylon-covered legs, Isabelle's Anna is the obsession of her male co-star and justifies his fixation at every turn with a casual panache.
Countering Anna's kooky, indigo-draped decent, Isabelle also plays a school teacher named Helen, a woman who always appears in white.
Even though the build up to her underground breakdown is a gradual progress (some mild hand wringing peppered with incoherent outbursts of a dire nature), the sight of Isabelle Adjani screaming and convulsing in that dank hallway is still a shocking sight to behold when it finally kicks into high gear. A hypnotizing avant-garde dance number, that, at times, plays out like a misguided tribute to the unseen wonders of mental illness, Isabelle's advanced lesson on how to properly thrash about in a subterranean setting will challenge your fortitude when it comes to watching dark haired actresses move spasmodically while seeping embryonic fluid.
The fact Isabelle Adjani is a French actress gives the scenes where she is called upon to briskly transport her lithe frame through an urban landscape in inappropriate footwear an added sense of authenticity. An American actress, or, say, a British one, would be constantly tripping over themselves if they attempted to move from street to street in an expedient manner while wearing high-heeled shoes. And while this clumsiness can be endearing at times, especially in romantic comedies that star Jeanne Tripplehorn, it's not welcome in demon-centric flicks that feature coitus with squids and dandified private eyes who frown upon being stabbed in the neck with the pointy ends of broken wine bottles. In this case you want the feminine steadiness that can only be attained with a French actress.
One of the perks to having a wife or girlfriend is the opportunity to try on her clothes when she is not around. But what if your wife or girlfriend is possessed by demons and wears the same indigo-coloured dress all the time? Now, this may sound a tad strange, but the former isn't the issue you should being worrying about. I mean, demons? Big deal. On the other hand, nothing can send a closeted transvestite over the edge faster than having a limited wardrobe to choose from. Of course, I'm not trying to imply that Sam Neill's character was a cross-dresser, far from it, I'm just trying to imagine the look of horror on the face of someone who was (a closeted transvestite) the moment they opened Isabelle Adjani's closet and saw nothing but a seemingly unending wall of blueish-violet.
Anyway, extremely dark and thoroughly twisted, Possession proudly waves the tattered flag for all those who enjoy movies that celebrate unconventional intercourse, revel in domestic turmoil, and aren't afraid to sport a transcendental temperament. A must-see for lovers of deeply weird cinema.