Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

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Mr Sausage
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Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#1 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Mar 02, 2021 10:28 am

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knives
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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#2 Post by knives » Tue Mar 02, 2021 10:30 am

Dumb question, but where does one legally see this?

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#3 Post by MichaelB » Tue Mar 02, 2021 10:35 am

That's the kind of question that was asked quite a bit in Britain in the early 1980s, when it became arguably the most distinguished film to end up on one of the Director of Public Prosecutions' notorious "video nasty" lists.

Anyway, here's something what I wroted about the film back in 2010, reviewing the old Second Sight DVD.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#4 Post by Big Ben » Tue Mar 02, 2021 11:17 am

knives wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 10:30 am
Dumb question, but where does one legally see this?
TCM has shown it at least once which is where I saw it but the the print they showed was in pretty rough shape and was pretty darn green. It's a great film and I hope more people get to see it eventually.

As for the topic what Possession is I feel it was always best experienced emotionally rather than logically as looking to ascertain certain aspects of what's going seems to be a fools errand. It's driven by Adjani's downright raw performance which is one of those things that needs to be seen to be believed. Add in some rather disturbing visuals and you're in for a deeply unpleasant viewing. I'm not familiar with Zulawski's other work but I get the impression that this isn't an isolated experience.

Am I also mistaken in the belief that Sam Neill is also not fond of the film? I seem to recall reading some years ago that he's got some issue with it but I'm not sure if that's my memory messing with me.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#5 Post by beamish14 » Tue Mar 02, 2021 12:36 pm

Big Ben wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 11:17 am
knives wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 10:30 am
Dumb question, but where does one legally see this?


Am I also mistaken in the belief that Sam Neill is also not fond of the film? I seem to recall reading some years ago that he's got some issue with it but I'm not sure if that's my memory messing with me.

In a career-spanning interview for the Onion's AV Club, he seemed a tad dismissive or maybe just incredulous over filmgoers' continued interest in it. He didn't say mention Zulawski by name.

It's interesting to contrast this film with Fidelity, made 20 years later and long after he'd left the oppressiveness of Cold War-era Poland for France. Like Possession, Fidelity also seems to have been inspired by a failed relationship of Zulawski's (in that case, with Sophie Marceau, who delivered a terrific performances in La Femme Publique, which is arguably his best French work).

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#6 Post by acidgoat » Tue Mar 02, 2021 1:37 pm

You can still purchase either the $39.99 Special Edition or the $79.99 Limited Edition Blu-ray from Toufaan.

https://www.toufaan.com/collections/mon ... ak-edition

https://www.toufaan.com/collections/mon ... red-copies

I purchased the Limited Edition last year and it is the single most beautifully packaged edition I’ve ever bought for a single film!

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senseabove
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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#7 Post by senseabove » Tue Mar 02, 2021 1:51 pm

Just a curio, but a while back I stumbled across this very early ad, supposedly from a trade magazine for the 1980 Cannes market, and I'm still so curious to know how this cast got far enough along to announce, yet I've never seen it mentioned in any coverage I've ever read:
Image

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Wigs by Leonard
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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#8 Post by Wigs by Leonard » Tue Mar 02, 2021 3:05 pm

knives wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 10:30 am
Dumb question, but where does one legally see this?
I can't quite fathom why, but there's what appears in all respects (clock the URL) to be a rip of the Blu on archive.org, for those who, like me a few weeks ago, want to preview this before buying.

MOD EDIT Please do not post direct links to illegal movie uploads

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#9 Post by beamish14 » Tue Mar 02, 2021 3:23 pm

acidgoat wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 1:37 pm
You can still purchase either the $39.99 Special Edition or the $79.99 Limited Edition Blu-ray from Toufaan.

https://www.toufaan.com/collections/mon ... ak-edition

https://www.toufaan.com/collections/mon ... red-copies

I purchased the Limited Edition last year and it is the single most beautifully packaged edition I’ve ever bought for a single film!

I've bought every title from Mondo Video, which exists solely to make these deluxe Zulawski releases. It's an incredible company (and really just one guy!), and I heartily recommend blind buying any of them.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#10 Post by beamish14 » Tue Mar 02, 2021 3:24 pm

senseabove wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 1:51 pm
Just a curio, but a while back I stumbled across this very early ad, supposedly from a trade magazine for the 1980 Cannes market, and I'm still so curious to know how this cast got far enough along to announce, yet I've never seen it mentioned in any coverage I've ever read:
Image



Hayden left to do the hugely underrated IRA terrorism film The Outsider, but I wonder why Sarandon jumped. I can definitely see him in the part. He has the intensity that the role demanded.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#11 Post by feihong » Tue Mar 02, 2021 7:46 pm

Big Ben wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 11:17 am
Am I also mistaken in the belief that Sam Neill is also not fond of the film? I seem to recall reading some years ago that he's got some issue with it but I'm not sure if that's my memory messing with me.
Conversely, this article claims it's one of Neill's favorite films he's made https://www.viddy-well.com/top-5/fun-fa ... difficulty. There isn't a very acceptable citation on that, however.

As for where to see the film, blu ray is I guess the main source nowadays? I picked up a U.K. blu ray of the film, which doesn't have the lens flares digitally added to some of the outdoor shots for hi-def release. They really are not necessary. It looks like Anchor Bay released a DVD of this back in the day as a double feature with Mario Bava's Shock. Haven't seen Shock, but I wonder if there's some thematic resonance they were trying to capitalize upon? I guess Shock is also about an unhappy marriage, also with a supernatural twist.

In that press sheet that offers the earlier casting for the film, I presume Helmut Griem was to play Heinrich, the "new age erotic martial artist?" But who would Sterling Hayden have been? Maybe a character not in the final version of the film? I can imagine Chris Sarandon in the Sam Neill role, but I don't think Sarandon would have done as well with Zulawski's approach to acting as Neill does in the movie.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#12 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:01 pm

beamish14 wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 3:23 pm
acidgoat wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 1:37 pm
You can still purchase either the $39.99 Special Edition or the $79.99 Limited Edition Blu-ray from Toufaan.

https://www.toufaan.com/collections/mon ... ak-edition

https://www.toufaan.com/collections/mon ... red-copies

I purchased the Limited Edition last year and it is the single most beautifully packaged edition I’ve ever bought for a single film!

I've bought every title from Mondo Video, which exists solely to make these deluxe Zulawski releases. It's an incredible company (and really just one guy!), and I heartily recommend blind buying any of them.
I've almost bought this film so many times over the last five years or so, but never have. I've had a long day and it's still going for another few hours, so please forgive me for not checking on this myself as I squeeze this in between clients- is the Mondo and Toufaan the same? And if so, or if not, what is the optimal version to get? I see feihong you just mentioned the U.K. blu also having its perks. Just curious as to the best, which I'd like to spring on tonight if possible as a reward to self.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#13 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:03 pm

feihong wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 7:46 pm
But who would Sterling Hayden have been? Maybe a character not in the final version of the film?
My first thought as well- though I haven't seen this film in a very long time, my gut instinct was, "well, you can't replace Sterling Hayden, so of course you cut the part"

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senseabove
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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#14 Post by senseabove » Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:29 pm

I think that Hayden in full expository Pharos of Chaos mode as Heinrich would've been more fitting, and amazing, and that Griem is a little too undeniably handsome for role of Heinrich—the attraction being somewhat baffling feels crucial to the dynamic.

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senseabove
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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#15 Post by senseabove » Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:37 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:01 pm
I've almost bought this film so many times over the last five years or so, but never have. I've had a long day and it's still going for another few hours, so please forgive me for not checking on this myself as I squeeze this in between clients- is the Mondo and Toufaan the same? And if so, or if not, what is the optimal version to get? I see feihong you just mentioned the U.K. blu also having its perks. Just curious as to the best, which I'd like to spring on tonight if possible as a reward to self.
Toufaan was the primary (only?) distributor for Mondo (and only Mondo? It's always been kinda confusing...). To make it more confusing, there are two, confusingly named editions: the special edition and the limited edition. The "special edition" is in a beautiful, DVD-sized slipcase with booklet, and the "limited edition" is in an insanely lavish velvet box with a bigger booklet, bonus art cards, a soundtrack CD and some other tat. Or there's the UK disc, which is cheaper and slightly brighter.

(Also worth mentioning that there's just been a new 4k UHD release in France, rather frustratingly without HDR, and since Mondo is rumored to be dead, never had great distribution, and this is a pretty major cult title, I'd be shocked if someone in the US doesn't bring out a new deluxe edition of that scan in the relatively near future.)

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#16 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Mar 02, 2021 9:26 pm

Thanks senseabove, I've been eyeing that "Special" Edition and the U.K. blu each for a while, might just jump on one

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Sloper
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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#17 Post by Sloper » Wed Mar 03, 2021 6:44 am

therewillbeblus wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:03 pm
feihong wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 7:46 pm
But who would Sterling Hayden have been? Maybe a character not in the final version of the film?
My first thought as well- though I haven't seen this film in a very long time, my gut instinct was, "well, you can't replace Sterling Hayden, so of course you cut the part"
Hayden might have been cast as Abe, Anna's previous husband. According to the 'Other Side of the Wall' documentary (by Daniel Bird), Bernhard Wicki was initially cast in this role, but Żuławski wrote the character out after the first few days of shooting. The woman who helps Sam Neill escape at the end would have been Abe's current wife.

It's interesting to think of Anna having these three men competing for her attention - her elderly, patriarchal ex-husband; her current husband, a staid, bourgeois tool of the state; and her lover, a radical, anti-establishment intellectual - and opting for that beautiful Carlo Rambaldi tentacle-monster instead.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#18 Post by MichaelB » Wed Mar 03, 2021 7:21 am

Sloper wrote:
Wed Mar 03, 2021 6:44 am
therewillbeblus wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 8:03 pm
feihong wrote:
Tue Mar 02, 2021 7:46 pm
But who would Sterling Hayden have been? Maybe a character not in the final version of the film?
My first thought as well- though I haven't seen this film in a very long time, my gut instinct was, "well, you can't replace Sterling Hayden, so of course you cut the part"
Hayden might have been cast as Abe, Anna's previous husband. According to the 'Other Side of the Wall' documentary (by Daniel Bird), Bernhard Wicki was initially cast in this role, but Żuławski wrote the character out after the first few days of shooting. The woman who helps Sam Neill escape at the end would have been Abe's current wife.
Yes, that makes perfect sense. I was racking my brains trying to think who Hayden could even vaguely plausibly have played, and I honestly can't think of another credible contender.

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feihong
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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#19 Post by feihong » Wed Mar 03, 2021 8:02 am

Sloper wrote:
Wed Mar 03, 2021 6:44 am
It's interesting to think of Anna having these three men competing for her attention - her elderly, patriarchal ex-husband; her current husband, a staid, bourgeois tool of the state; and her lover, a radical, anti-establishment intellectual - and opting for that beautiful Carlo Rambaldi tentacle-monster instead.
The Rambaldi tentacle-monster has qualities of all of them, in a way; it is limited in its perambulation, enfeebled like an old man; it has it's own radical sense of self-preservation (apropos, I think, since Heinrich's anti-establishment credentials only seem to exist to serve his sense of personal identity), and the monster ultimately becomes the doppelganger of Mark, the bourgeois tool of the state. Without that previous husband, it makes the monster seem more a reflection against any male ego that goes against it––more than a match for Heinrich, and equal to Mark, who by the end of the film is somewhat the creature's enabler, or...father, perhaps? Certainly when Anna presents the fully-formed doppelganger to Mark, it's with the pride and presentation of a mother, as if to say, "look what we made together." The creature is then Mark's exact duplicate, yet without Mark's morality (which I don't think the film treats as too exemplary in the first place)––the way a son may appear to a father who is beginning to feel his generation and its' values are passing into history.

It's interesting to me the way in which the world seems to be slipping into World War III outside as the film reaches its climax. My impression was that this was implied to be the result of Mark refusing to do his spy job––which, I think, makes it Mark, Anna, and the tentacle monster's fault, in a way. As in Zulawski's previous L'important C'est D'aimer, the principle lovers can't figure out a sufficient menage a trois in order to keep things together. It seemed to me a sort of joke that the world seems to be descending into anarchy because of Sam Neill's marital problems.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#20 Post by MichaelB » Wed Mar 03, 2021 8:14 am

feihong wrote:
Wed Mar 03, 2021 8:02 am
The Rambaldi tentacle-monster has qualities of all of them, in a way; it is limited in its perambulation, enfeebled like an old man; it has it's own radical sense of self-preservation (apropos, I think, since Heinrich's anti-establishment credentials only seem to exist to serve his sense of personal identity), and the monster ultimately becomes the doppelganger of Mark, the bourgeois tool of the state. Without that previous husband, it makes the monster seem more a reflection against any male ego that goes against it––more than a match for Heinrich, and equal to Mark, who by the end of the film is somewhat the creature's enabler, or...father, perhaps? Certainly when Anna presents the fully-formed doppelganger to Mark, it's with the pride and presentation of a mother, as if to say, "look what we made together." The creature is then Mark's exact duplicate, yet without Mark's morality (which I don't think the film treats as too exemplary in the first place)––the way a son may appear to a father who is beginning to feel his generation and its' values are passing into history.
And if you read Mark as a surrogate for Żuławski himself - an entirely reasonable interpretation, since the film was directly inspired by the traumatic collapse of Żuławski's own marriage - this take becomes even more resonant. Not least because by then Żuławski had become permanently exiled from his native Poland (the treatment of his previous feature On the Silver Globe being the final straw), and French would have been well on the way to becoming his primary language, and so I imagine he'd have done a lot of thinking about assorted value systems and the clashes between them. So I can see how this notion of psychologically wiping the slate clean would appeal.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#21 Post by feihong » Wed Mar 03, 2021 6:03 pm

Extending your theory a little (because it makes so much sense to me), I suppose you could read both Mark and Anna's doubles as the new versions of Mark and Anna, adapted to their new environment. The Mark and Anna of most of the film live in a claustrophobic apartment and behave like refugees––there's a sense of danger being right outside, and their little bubble of relative austerity (they are stuffed into a kind of tenement, as well, redolent of urban life behind the iron curtain at that time) being a space for them to awkwardly process their encounters with the outside world––mostly in the form of screams and demands for divorce or no divorce. Mark and Anna have few friends, and they are isolated, except for Mark's work, and for the outlet of the affair Anna has uncovered (she is leaping ahead of Mark in terms of adapting to their surroundings in this way). Their outdoor encounters lead to car wrecks and miscarriages which read like anguished cries for help in an alien landscape. And Mark's job is to be invisible in plain sight, hiding his real personality and helping defectors into situations we imagine as similar to his own (if the role of Mark had been played by a Polish actor, I think this idea of Mark as an immigrant himself would read more clearly––though Neill is clearly is not native to Berlin, and his sweater-jeans combinations look very Eastern-bloc in a way).

By contrast, their doubles are fully integrated into West Berlin; Helen, the teacher that looks just like Anna, is adapted enough to her environment to be gentle, resourceful, compassionate––things not afforded to the desperate, stretched–taut and besieged Anna. Helen has a softer look that seems to indicate she has grown up here, and her job as a teacher is, in some philosophies of education, to socially condition children to their environment. And the alien adapts by defeating the humans that try and apprehend it, and by literally taking on the appearance of a human. At the end, when the alien version of Mark escapes we get the sense of a sort of Berlin Fantomas, haunting the rooftops of the city, descending on his prey. The alien doppelganger at the end has what Mark himself seems to lack: a sense of total mobility––a freedom to wreak his own personal brand of havoc. So in a way, the doubles of both characters are themselves, recalibrated for a new life in a new city. It's been hard for me to figure out the reason for Mark and Anna's doubles in the film (especially Anna's double, Helen, who appears in a Vertigo–style scene of haunting recognition which strikingly underlines her presence and her contrast with Anna). But looking at them as new, clean-slate versions of Mark and Anna I think gives them a lot of purpose in the movie.

As a film inspired by Zulawski's own divorce, I think most of the rest of the film makes sense. The movie often feels like front-line reporting on a divorce, transcribed by a surrealist poet, with metaphors for dysfunction building into set-pieces (the car wreck Anna causes as she and Mark argue in the street, the scene with the carving knife), which blow up the emotional backdrop of the couple's confrontations into large–scale scenes. I wonder to what extent Zulawski's approach is inspired by Jerzy Grotowski's philosophies of drama? Grotowski emphasizes the physical, and finding outsized physical gesture that exaggerates in order to capture the emotional essence of the actor's role, and Zulawski seems––in all his pictures I've seen––to take that to a sort of ultimate extreme. Further, it seems that the writing of scenarios seems to complement that goal––to the extent in Possession that the Rambaldi tentacle monster becomes an expression of all of Mark's darkest, most hideous feelings about the impending end of his marriage, and Anna acts out her distress with an electric carving knife, car crashes in the streets, murders, and subway-tunnel miscarriages. I've seen that subway-tunnel scene described as a miscarriage, but it seems to me the fulfillment of the logical extreme of the Grotowski method––a physical explosion of a character's emotional underpinnings, thrust to the surface. Both Neill and Adjani perform their characters' distress in profound exaggeration, reminiscent of the "plastiques" Grotowski would put his actors through. It's my impression that many Polish filmmakers, from Wajda and Wojciech Jerzy Has onwards, seem influenced by Grotowski's method, but Zulawski seems uniquely committed to taking it as far as possible, putting the actors and camera through throes of distortion to arrive at the emotional truth of a scene. I haven't read anything about Zulawski, but the films I've seen so far––The Third Part of the Night, L'important C'est D'aimer, Possession, Limpet Love, and Cosmos (Devil, On the Silver Globe and My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days are all on my immediate "must-watch" list––and I guess La Femme Publique ought to be)––all of them seem to employ this somewhat unique sense of stylization, and it always reminds me of what I've read of Grotowski and his method.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#22 Post by Thornycroft » Thu Mar 04, 2021 8:55 am

It may be worth briefly bringing up for comparison the butchered edit of the film created by the American distributor. Clocking in at a paltry 80 minutes it desperately tries to mould the film into something resembling a traditional horror narrative by making significant cuts, reordering scenes, changing the meaning of moments with overdubs, slapping optical filters all over the climax, and adding new musical themes. Perhaps the most significant shift is the attempt to cast Mark as a rational audience perspective character, minimising Anna wherever possible. When Mark says to Helen "I'm at war with women", the recut not only takes that remark at face value but appears to endorse it.

The American edit has been out of circulation since the days of VHS (Mondo Vision transferred a 35mm print with the intention of including it on their release but omitted it at the last minute "to avoid conflict with those responsible") but is worth tracking down to see how drastically it manages to alter the tone and intention of the film.

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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#23 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Mar 05, 2021 4:58 am

It has been a while since I last watched Possession but I remember really liking the way that the film 'expands' outwards until it alludes to almost every type of turmoil from the smallest and personal mental breakdown, through kitchen sink despair of collapsing relationships and potential adulterous partners up to the most cosmic and apocalyptic outcomes. But it does so in a way that you can constantly cross reference back and forth within the film, with the later material enriching the earlier scenes, and vice versa, so the alien 'adultery' is the most bizarre form of having someone refuse to be with you because somebody else gives them what you cannot but is perhaps less (or differently) horrific compared to the violent screaming matches and self-harm of the early scenes. The world is only a collection of people within it and when they all cease to properly function, or rather function in 'improper' ways within their individual relationships (because their relationship/society is not fulfilling their almost inexpressible inner needs, or worse is actively against them), that creates the cracks from where the society itself begins to teeter.

It is also getting into the fears of 'bodily takeover' from mental turmoil causing extreme bodily reactions (with literally psychosomatic results!), to actual violating acts (the subway tunnel scene with Adjani of course is the bridging scene for this) and the impregnation literalising fears of your body doing things out of your control. Rebelling from within. And then in the final section we begin getting dopplegangers that feel as if they allude to both Bunuel's Obscure Object of Desire and Invasion of the Body Snatchers simultaenously. With the most damning thing being the relative ease of the manner in which our hero (after murdering himself) is able to transfer his attentions to the new figure knocking at his door, ignoring the blaringly apocalyptic warning sirens, whilst the more sensitive son commits suicide in the bathtub to avoid having to meet her!

And that is before we get into the just as fascinating 'body politic' aspect of the film with the split of the couple and the split between mundane and fantastical, the sane and insane, and between the genders being expressed in the literal location of the film on the East-West German border. That maybe over the wall doubles of yourself and your lover are playing out a different variation on your story where maybe it did not end in the way it did on this side. Perhaps you have lost your current lover but maybe the other is in a different hotel, with a different species of being, and you are destined to never contact them again whilst being tormented by their presence? Maybe meeting up with the ultimate doppleganger that you were never supposed to be aware of the existence of is the act that could unite the world, but also entirely destroys the one that we have come to know.

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Sloper
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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#24 Post by Sloper » Sat Mar 06, 2021 8:58 am

I tried to incorporate several quotations from previous posts in this one, but it got complicated so I gave up… So this is in response to various things above, but I will start by quoting something feihong said:
feihong wrote:
Wed Mar 03, 2021 6:03 pm
I've seen that subway-tunnel scene described as a miscarriage, but it seems to me the fulfillment of the logical extreme of the Grotowski method––a physical explosion of a character's emotional underpinnings, thrust to the surface.
Anna herself describes it as a ‘miscarriage’, but I agree with you that it’s an extreme expression of her emotional state. I think this film resists any efforts to impose a coherent interpretation on it, but I find it helpful to think about it in terms of alienation and trauma.

The situation at the start is apparently that Anna has been left alone for too long by her husband, and the loneliness has damaged their relationship. But as with another Anna – the one in L’avventura who misses her fiancé terribly while he’s away, then can’t stand him when they’re reunited – it turns out that the ‘loneliness’ in question here is rooted in something more profound than mere physical separation. There are some clues in the opening shots: Mark rides home in a taxi, staring out from this protected space at a devastated, traumatised, haunted Berlin; then we see Anna, from behind, her arms clasped about her body like a strait-jacket, stalking through the sterile walkway that leads from the tenement block onto the street. Her surroundings are so pristine, so cold, so oppressive, and when Mark greets her she is inarticulate, almost speechless. We get the impression of a world where intense trauma is lurking just below the surface, but has been forcibly buried under the ‘propriety’ and ‘order’ that Mark spends most of the film trying to enforce.

One of the most impressive things in this film is the way it conveys a sense of trauma within the trappings of domestic normality; and it never feels like we need to scratch the surface to feel this trauma, because the surface is already scratched and bleeding profusely. It’s a genuinely skin-crawling experience. The most vivid instance of this is when Anna and Mark are on the sofa and he’s trying to have a sane conversation, in that maddeningly false tone of rationality and sympathy, while she’s right next to him literally clawing at her own arms and writhing in agony. Earlier, when she says that she can’t stand to be touched by him, we instinctively understand why. It reminds me of another Antonioni couple, the husband and wife in Red Desert: all he seems to see in her is a woman who’s temporarily lost her balance and needs to be stabilised; he doesn’t see the ‘something terrible in reality’ that is so painfully present to her…

…except that in Possession, the husband does gradually come to see and even embrace this ‘terrible thing’. Anna insists on her need for her extra-marital lover, and Mark yells ‘Fuck your needs!’ She slaps him, and something changes here: we cut to an extreme close-up of Mark’s face, reeling from the slap and then turning to look directly into the camera. It’s a moment of unexpected connection and arousal. ‘Do it again,’ he says. Then we cut to an equally extreme close-up of Anna looking into the camera, panting for breath and wiping her mouth, a sinister smile spreading across her face in reaction to Mark’s request. It’s important that she’s started to slobber with excitement, excreting something slimy during an act of violence – it’s part of the wet-and-slimy texture of this film that Daniel Bird refers to in his commentary with Frederic Tuten. She needs this, and she’s showing Mark that she needs it in response to ‘fuck your needs!’, and something in him drives him to ask for more. We sense a new level of connectedness between them because of the into-the-camera close-ups, and the film is staring back at us as well, daring us to connect with what is happening, and to like it. When Anna then pulls away, Mark stops her from leaving and repeatedly hits her across the face, drawing blood – a minute later, out on the street, the blood oozes profusely from her mouth.

This is an emotive topic that perhaps requires a content warning, but we could get into the ethics of how this film portrays domestic violence here. In this context it’s perhaps worth citing the story that Żuławski proudly tells about threatening to smash Adjani’s head against a wall when she refused to play a scene with the green lenses that were hurting her eyes… I guess I’m just flagging that this is an issue, and that the film is arguably ‘problematic’ in some ways, before I return to analysing it on its own terms.

Anna herself later shakes her head when asked whether she is afraid that Mark will hit her again, and indeed she seems comfortable with violence throughout the film: although she makes some efforts to get the detectives to leave her alone, once they’ve refused she quickly resigns herself to murdering them; and she stabs Heinrich as though it meant nothing at all.

If anything, the violence is part of what brings her and Mark closer together. As he hits her, he says, ‘This is for all the lies!’ and she retorts, ‘Then you’ll have to add much more!’ He doesn’t yet understand what he’s tapping into, or what the true significance of her ‘affair’ is, but he is gradually getting there, and she’s challenging him to keep digging (but sceptical that he’ll be able to deal with the consequences).

The meat-mincing scene offers a tense going-through-the-motions portrait of domestic life, with the husband constantly in the way and the wife saying ‘Excuse me’ as she goes about preparing the food. Something is ‘off’ about the way Anna stuffs that meat into the machine, and the low-angle shot makes it look as though she were feeding herself into the mincer, translating her own body into that raw, red goo that drips towards the camera. It’s both shocking and not at all surprising when she then presses the electric carver against her own neck. This oppressive, sterile domestic world is one where blood and meat and ooze are carefully controlled and ‘safe’, and Anna’s gesture here is less an attempt at suicide than an attempt to externalise what is internal, what is repressed. Mark, as well as tending to her wound, then inflicts some on himself, and agrees with Anna that ‘it doesn’t hurt’.

Mark’s conformity with the larger systems and structures around him is signalled in various ways: his talk of propriety and order, his dismissal of Anna as ‘ugly’ and ‘vulgar’, and the affectations in his mode of speech. One really interesting manifestation is in the use of rocking and rotating chairs. At three crucial points in the film, Mark sits in his rocking chair, and each time the repetitive back-and-forth motion evokes his insistence on the status quo – the rhythm of normal family life that he wishes to restore. But this motion, like his superficially reasonable but verging-on-crazy speeches, is a little too violent, too exaggerated, too repetitive. There’s a remarkable shot where he rocks savagely in and out of focus, staring straight ahead like Jack Torrance in The Shining and ranting about how he’s ‘taking over’. When he goes to the detective’s office, both characters sit in swivel-chairs: the detective rotates gently from side to side behind his desk, and by contrast Mark’s swivelling seems absurdly over-the-top. The camera tracks slowly across the room, making sure to observe these two swivelling men from a number of different perspectives, like a more restrained version of the sweeping camera movements during Mark’s grilling by his employers. A static shot would have made the swivel-chair scene comical, but the moving camera instead creates a more disturbing effect, giving us a distanced, objective, observational perspective; these gestures no longer seem normal when portrayed in this way, and we can’t help but sense the madness and violence simmering beneath the surface.

The way in which Mark disposes of Heinrich suggests, quite definitively, that he is no longer at all uncomfortable with vulgarity, impropriety, or violence. This liberating descent continues through his blowing up of Anna’s flat (inexplicably prompting the woman outside to dance for joy), the car-crash/gunfight sequence (I have to admit I have no idea what’s going on here), and his motorcycle ride through the alley-way, oozing blood and letting out primal screams as he hurtles towards his final destination. All of this seems like his way of joining Anna in her new mode of existence, rejecting all the rules and norms had previously stifled them. Perhaps the monster takes on Mark’s shape in parallel with his descent. The consequences of the descent are ‘so hard to live with’, as the second Mark says to his dying predecessor, because the journey Anna and Mark go on is like that of Bonnie and Clyde, and can only end in an orgy of blood-letting, a simultaneous ascent to heaven (to the top of the staircase) and descent into hell (as Mark plunges to his death).

Perhaps it would help to relate this back to the concept of trauma – a trauma so extreme that it cannot be repressed, escaped, or embraced without bringing destruction. In The Third Part of the Night, the trauma is of the kind Helen describes (while cleaning raw meat from the carver), clearly embodied and identifiable in the actual torture and violence that are waiting to get you around every corner and behind every door. Amidst the relentless Nazi atrocities, the doppelgängers and ghosts in that film are marked as hallucinatory responses to trauma, offering a brief respite now and then before the machine guns flare up once again. The world Anna and Mark inhabit in Possession has buried and sanitised and tried to forget this trauma, but one way or another it has to erupt and kill. There is a real love between Anna, Mark, and Bob, and at times they feel like a potentially (and genuinely) happy family, but there is no place in this world for their pain, their needs, or their desires. Anna and Mark re-connect when they find a space to express these things to each other, but this isn’t Secretary, and a happy or stable resolution seems out of the question.

Like feihong, I also don’t know what to make of the doubles getting together at the end. Helen knows trauma in its more direct and obvious forms, and has fewer illusions about it; monster-Mark is born from Anna’s trauma, but he does (and says) so little in the film that it’s hard to know what to make of him; and why does Bob not want his new mother to open the door to his new father? In the ‘Other Side of the Wall’ documentary you get a glimpse of the final page of the original script, and it looks like the flashing lights and air-raid noises are not in there; instead, the film ends with Helen walking towards the door, and we never learn whether she reaches and opens it. In the ending we have now, she turns from the door (whose glass pane is being pawed at by the new Mark) and looks blankly into the camera. I feel like too many ideas are crammed in here, and I sort of wish the film had a simpler ending, but perhaps the messiness of it is part of the point. What do we do with ourselves, and each other, and our jobs and our families and so on, in this world that has no idea how to remember and process the traumas of the past (or of the present)? The walls we put up make things worse rather than better, and when the walls come down we lose our minds and bleed to death.

So perhaps the ending is asking, can we re-make ourselves from scratch, see the world through different eyes, find a way of living with everything that’s happened and everything we’ve done, and thereby find a way of living with each other? In one of the interviews, Żuławski attributes his own ‘difficult’ personality, and his tendency to give his films apocalyptic endings, to the fact that he was born out of and formed by the Nazi/Stalinist horrors of the 40s and 50s, which casts an interesting light on this film that is, in part, about why his marriage failed.

The ending of Possession feels despairing to me: the bombs are falling again, the world is lapsing in and out of light and darkness, and the child is already diving into a state of denial, saying ‘don’t open, don’t open’. He doesn’t say ‘don’t open the door’: the vagueness of his plea makes the verb both transitive and intransitive, as in ‘don’t open anything’ and ‘don’t open’, as if people could just ‘open’ the way Bob’s parents have, or the way the monster does when it lies on the bed with a big whitish gash opening and closing in its chest. Until it becomes Sam Neill, the monster looks like a man who’s been skinned alive, who is constantly and completely ‘open’.

The key scene of the whole film, of course, is Anna’s ‘miscarriage’, which is really a many-splendoured thing that expresses a range of emotions. She finds herself in the subway tunnel, and this location in itself is multi-faceted. It’s claustrophobic, with no visible way in or out, but instead a seemingly endless and repetitive structure extending forever in both directions. The moist black floor mirrors the harsh lights in the ceiling like inescapable interrogation lamps that hit you from above and below. And of course there’s no one else here; and we’re buried underground. But the underground is also a liberating space: it’s lonely when no one can see or hear you, but by the same token you are free to be and express yourself in any way you want to. So Anna expresses everything. Nothing remains inside.

She starts with a wild-eyed, transgressive laugh, and then as she scrapes against and bounces off the walls she works through a myriad of extreme emotions. At times, as Żuławski directed Adjani to do, she is fucking the air and experiencing a prolonged orgasm. At other times it’s as though the H.R. Giger xenomorph were tearing her apart from within; at still other times she’s performing a ritual dance, and since she’s a failed ballet dancer I think it’s appropriate to see ‘artistic expression’ as one of the repressed things that comes out here (and to be constantly aware that we’re watching an amazing piece of acting by Adjani, within a very disturbing and transgressive film). She’s also incandescent with rage, and her pulverising of the milk and eggs (both associated with conventional ideas of the ‘maternal’) seems like a very deliberate and pointed gesture, not a random spasm brought on by her pain. When she finally delivers the creature, she is both dying (something explodes inside her, erupting from every orifice, and her face goes blank) and generating a new life that is both part of and separate from her, a mixture of self, child, lover, and husband. Her scream at this moment is both a scream of someone being destroyed and a scream of ecstatic release.

I’m not sure how to make sense of the ‘faith and chance’ stuff – Żuławski talks a lot about ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’ in the interviews and commentary, so I guess I’d try to relate it to that – but when I watch this scene in the tunnel it just seems like a moment when ‘everything’ happens, and it seems to sum up everything else in the film. Anna has too much – she has everything – going on inside her, and it all comes out in one go, all mingled together. Again I think of Giuliana in Red Desert, so constrained by her surroundings that she can no longer separate out the emotions that have accumulated inside her.

I also want to single out another detail I love in this tunnel scene. When Anna is thrashing about in the middle of the floor, as her head jerks up and down the light catches her face and makes it seem deathly white, then it’s plunged back into darkness, then back into the light, and so on. It reminds me of that subliminal image of the devil’s face in The Exorcist, and it’s linked to a series of other close-ups of Anna in the film. There’s one in particular – I think it’s when she’s on the sofa, describing the miscarriage – where she gets so close to the lens, and pulls her features back, and her pupils dilate so that her eyes are scarily dark, and her face becomes an unrecognisable death-mask... Adjani is so amazing in this film. One great thing about the monster, despite Żuławski’s misgivings about Rambaldi’s condom-puppet, is that when we do see its white, gaping face, we sense an association with the Anna death-mask – I think that’s why the shot of the monster’s face (when Heinrich sees it) is quite chilling, and not at all comical or absurd.
feihong wrote:
Wed Mar 03, 2021 6:03 pm
At the end, when the alien version of Mark escapes we get the sense of a sort of Berlin Fantomas, haunting the rooftops of the city, descending on his prey.
Żuławski wanted to film an extra scene where Mark climbs out onto the rooftops and surveys Berlin from above, and he said that he would have done so if they’d had an extra day of filming. Would that reinforce the idea that new-Mark and Helen have acclimated perfectly to their surroundings – or that they had both transcended those surroundings, and were therefore more successfully transgressive than their respective prototypes?

One final comment: it would be interesting to contrast this film with Rosemary's Baby, where the failing marriage and horror trappings (and the journey the heroine goes through) are similarly tied up with broader problems to do with abusive structures and conventions.

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colinr0380
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Re: Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)

#25 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Mar 06, 2021 9:33 am

Wonderful post Sloper! It did make me realise that I mixed up Mark and Anna in that final scene. Isn't the 'new Anna' in that final scene the enigmatic (idealised? A literal stranger because both Mark and the audience have not yet gotten to know her as intimately yet?) version of Anna that is always associated with children, like a teacher or a childminder? I do wonder if the dopplegangers of the final scene are meant to be new beings who are able to exist in the world without the torment that the characters we have been following for much of the film had, but that lack of proper emotional reaction only adds to the Body Snatchers sense that we have seen the 'new world' come into being but at what cost to human drives and emotions. When you can self-reproduce, replicating without the emotional 'flaws', what is the need for the young son brought about by conventional means any more?

I also want to note the influence Adjani's big subway scene had over Shozin Fukui's astonishing 'cyberpunk' film (but it is much stranger than the cyberpunk tag would suggest) √964 Pinocchio, which pointedly homages the scene in this sequence of the heroine losing her mind (and lunch) in graphic detail (warning: do not watch that video if you are not prepared for somebody vomiting up almost their body weight and then rolling around in it)

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