After finally watching Warner Herzog’s Nosferatu some years ago, I got into an Isabelle Adjani kick. I found out about Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession via Twitter, and considered picking it up. However, the only copy available at the time on Amazon was the Mondo Vision Special Edition, which clocked in at almost $175 dollars. I haven’t seen a movie priced so high since my Aunt purchased the VHS version of Conan the Barbarian when it was first released at around $80.
Thankfully, Metrograph has the film on rotation in part of their movies at home service since last year. I’ve watched it a few times since it was made available, and perhaps it’s why Titane didn’t bother me as much is it did others. I felt truly uncomfortable with Possession, and it’s not an easy recommendation. I’m not sure I’d refer to it a horror film. It’s more of a supernatural drama, but by the end of it, you may find yourself wanting to wash your eyes out. I guess maybe the closest films I could compare Possession to are Marriage Story and Blue Valentine, but with some darker elements.
I should a moment to warn you now. Possession contains elements of nudity, abuse, creature sex and even a miscarriage. The film was originally banned in the United Kingdom as part of a movement to corral more extreme content in cinema. Films like Faces of Death, Tenebrae, The Evil Dead, Mother’s Day (which my older brother owned), Shogun Assassin and even Suspiria were once on a watch list to be seized if their videos were owned by anyone. This was done under the notion that the content of the films were either offensive or could corrupt the minds of anyone (children, in particular) watching it.
Possession is the story of Anna (Adjani) and Mark (Sam Neill, Thor: Ragnarok). Having recently arrived home from working abroad as an Operative, Mark suspects that Anna is cheating on him. She has found someone else, and it proves to be a major rift in their already damaged relationship. Add to this their son, Bob, and it just grows more complicated. When Mark confronts Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), one of Anna’s lovers, it doesn’t go well for Mark. Try as he might to make amends with Anna, she simply doesn’t feel anything for him anymore or rather, her new relationship is too much to let go. Mark’s attempts to reconcile aren’t exactly working in his favor, as he moves from constant questioning to outright violence in some cases. Mark isn’t exactly innocent either, considering that he’s grown fond of Helen, Bob’s school teacher (also played by Adjani) and reluctantly spends some quiet time with his annoying neighbor, Margit (Margit Carstensen, Martha).
Eventually, Mark hires an investigator (Carl Duering) to follow Anna and track down her lover. The detective manages to find Anna living in a run down building. He discovers who (and more importantly, what) she’s been sleeping with, which prompts Anna to kill him. As curiosity grows over Anna’s new relationship, Heinrich checks in on Anna, only to be attacked. Heinrich returns to Mark for assistance, which leads to some strange events in the last half hour.
Although the film is about 2 hours and 4 minutes, it does takes a while to get to where it needs to go. I’ll admit to having moments of wondering just what was going on, as the film felt like it was looping in circles. Mark wants Anna, Anna hates Mark. Mark loves Bob, so does Anna. Once the detective comes into the picture, things pick up a bit. There’s also a miscarriage sequence that was hard to watch. If you can handle it, so be it, but for me, it was definitely a “What the hell?” moment.
Possession‘s special effects were created by Carlo Rambaldi, who also went on to work on E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The creature in the movie is somewhat menacing in its various forms, with tentacles slithering. I would have loved to see the audience reaction to it on screen. Possession was a hard film to make for both Sam Neill and Isabell Adjani. Supposedly, the movie caused Adjani so much stress that it was rumored she attempted suicide. Neill also had issues working in the film and according to Wikipedia, he considered it one of the “most extreme film” he ever made. It truly shows throughout the movie. Both actors push at each other like an angry married couple, and the interactions between the two are the real shocking elements of Possession. You have thrown chairs, tons of screaming and fighting.
Overall, Possession is a film that isn’t a required watch, but I was curious about the ban behind it. It has some strong and wild performances by both Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani. Adjani’s performance would win her the Best Actress at Cannes, and was well deserved. It’s almost an out of body experience, for the most part.
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