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Repulsion

Director: Roman Polanski

U.K.| 1965. Black and white. 104 mins New 35mm print.


In a fine Sight and Sound essay on Rosemary’s Baby, Jenny Diski discussed what she saw as the peculiar ambiguity of Polanski’s feelings on women, ‘ranging from remarkable sensitivity about their lives to puerile pornographic depictions of their bodies.’ This tension is particularly acute in Repulsion. A Belgian manicurist (Catherine Deneuve) in London is driven to murderous madness by fears and fantasies about sex. Is Polanski dwelling sadistically on her erotic angst or is he genuinely moved by her fragile femininity in a world of brutish masculinity? There can be no doubting the power of the presentation as we watch a solitary character disintegrating in her room, and the room disintegrating with her. The manipulation of tempo and the timing of the shocks are worthy of Hitchcock. This is one of the most unnerving of all horror films because it topples you headlong into the most terrifying of all terrains: the landscape of the disturbed mind.

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