(Roman Polanski, UK, 1965)


The poetic, mentally-disturbed woman films of the mid-1960s – Marnie (1964), The Red Desert (1964), Lilith (1964), Belle de jour (1967) – took aspects of the Female Gothic tradition and created a new arthouse form.

Intimations of a primal family trauma; the threat posed by all men, genteel or rapacious; twisted, modern-day reflections of the fairytale imagery of castles and a rescue at the hands of Prince Charming ... Repulsion is central to that vital, pop-modernist moment in world cinema that has left a lasting legacy in experimental and horror-thriller sectors alike.

Polanski enters the mind of his troubled heroine in order to create a style that boils down the state of paranoia to its filmic essentials: tense point-of-view volleys and a camera that ubiquitously tracks Carol (Catherine Deneuve) from close behind, as if in grubby surveillance.

For a first English-language film, Repulsion is a remarkably authentic portrait of the least attractive aspects of London life. The story begins in quasi-realist mode, with droll observations of daily rituals (work, eating, commuting) and Carol's night-time terrors.

Gradually, all ordered systems break down as Carol's ambiguous apparitions overwhelm her existence. Polanski then plunges us into pure cinema – a show of indefinite, inexplicable sights and sounds.

Repulsion has sometimes been viewed suspiciously as a misogynist fantasy of a frigid woman's murderous madness. For his part, Polanski asserts that the film is not primarily the study of a sexual pathology but is about the way, in daily life, we often do not notice the signs that someone among us is in crisis.

MORE Polanski: Chinatown, Cul-de-Sac, Death and the Maiden, The Fat and the Lean, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Frantic, The Ninth Gate, The Pianist, The Tenant, Tess, Two Men and a Wardrobe, Knife in the Water

© Adrian Martin June 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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