Possession Andrzej Zulawski (Fr 1981)

Possession Andrzej Zulawski (Fr 1981)

Possession Andrzej Zulawski (Fr
1981) Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema; 28 Feb
13; Ticket £5

retrocrit: Shot to death

Set in Berlin in about 1980, Zulawski’s
(AZ) Possession (P) was presumably intended to echo back, in its
psycho-sexual schizoid script, as an allegorical comment on divided
condition of Germany exemplified by Berlin split in two by its
East-West Wall and the rise of European revolutionary terrorist
groups. Art house intellectual horror was perhaps his intention.

The opening shots track down a length
of the Wall from the West looking over to the East, an enclosed vista
of boarded up delapidation and dereliction. Z then cuts to another
kind of architectural statement, a marble clad corporate headquarters
with serried columns, inside of which festers some kind of state
twilight agency. This agency employs Mark, in a non specific
capacity, and seems to have a sinister perhaps menacing security

And as a set up that’s it. There is
not much else that is cogently fed into the script to enable the
viewer to read signs in the film as to what it is about: it might be
an quasi- allegorical political piece, or something else even less
specific than the agency. Perhaps that is the point. However the
film was made at the height of the activity of left wing
revolutionary cells in Europe in Italy the Red Brigade and in Western
Germany the Red Army Faction, Bader-Meinhof activists. Both these
groups and the various spin off revolutionary cells, entered into a
train of murderous killings and assassinations justified both by
revolutionary liberation rhetoric borrowed from South America and
traditional European Anarchism and Maoist-Marxism; driven by a naif
belief in the USSR and China, and mistrust of the neo-fascism they
perceived at the root of the Italian and German democracies in
particular and Western democracies in general.

Public shock in Europe in the 70’s and
80’s, at the appearance of revolutionary groups in their midst was
further increased by the realisation that the members of the groups
hailed form the prosperous educated middle classes and that women
were at the core of these revolutionary groups. Given that women had
always played a prominent role in revolution (Rosa Luxembourg; the
nihilist groups of Russia in the 1870’s) this was hardly a surprise.
What was different was that this era was the time of the paparazzi.
Sex sold magazines and newspapers, and revolutionary women were ‘hot
dangerous dolls’! Dolls being the operative word as women were
scorned as independent agents so it was the convenient working
assumption that they were literally screwed into belief, by the
ultimate succubus, the revolutionary monster. So although it is in
fact poorly sketched out, and ultimately AZ seems to have lost
interest in the political allegorical model whilst making his film,
this is still the path that seems to be suggested allegorially at
least, that is taken by Anna in P.

Anna, despite being a mother, abandons
her husband (who is away a lot doing whatever) first, for a new age
lover who having practiced all the correct Tantric exercises knows
how to fuck her good. She still continues to try and pass as if
she’s leading a ‘normal’ life but, sexual degradation at some
undefined point in the movie, starts to invest her being and she ends
up in East Berlin the sex slave of a sort slimy betenticled squid
like monster, who fucks the brains out of her. It all ends badly of
course (as it did with the Red army Faction and like) in stake outs,
shoot outs and a final Armageddon. Oddly enough as part of the
narrative development AZ introduces during the second stage of Anna’s
corruption (when she abandons her child) a sort of doppelganger for
Anna in the form of Helen (also played by Adjani) as a good Anna, the
Anna that Anna was supposed to be, but had split from, introducing
another schizo level in the film, which again fails to add up to or
mean anything, just hangs limply like another dead branch on AZ’s

In fact the remains of the allegorical
structure are so slight that I felt as if I was pulling it together
from an intense reading of its residual signs. It’s possible this
reading might be purely fanciful. But in itself this attempt at
reading indicates the movies core weakness: it doesn’t have a core.
Z has shot a film empty of any force moving through either its
structure or content that makes for a coherent set of responses to
the material. As such P lacks tension. Even the shot, presumably
supposed to be the “WoW’ moment in the movie, when we see the
creature fucking Anna, panders to voyeurism rather than to horror,
affect rather than effect; in revealing this in all its full on
imagery, the monster becomes a joke rather than a force. Although
the shot is rated by the supporters of the movie, this is as voyeurs
( nothing wrong with this in itself); but direct gazing upon this
scene adds nothing to the movie as a whole.

Polanski’s REPULSION, on which some
elements of the film certainly the Anna roll has been modelled, has
the defining characteristic of being a forceful expression of a dark
carnal degeneration. Repulsion knows what it is about where it is
going, and takes the viewer on the appropriate cinematic ride. AZ’s
P, its sketchy (perhaps inexistent) allegorical structure, is fuzzy
and unspecific. It takes the viewer nowhere; rather offers them
‘moments’: pink socks, the beast, nasty slayings of people as if they
were sacrificial victims (RAF) some fun cod philosophical dialogue,
and architecture. But everything slithers into inconsequentiality.

One key element of the film holds it
together that makes it watchable.

Bruno Nuytten’s camera work is
extraordinary, embedded not just into the structure but in the
possible reading of P. The camera constantly suggests the
possibility of effect. The camera, tracks, floats reveals and
penetrates. The movement of the camera through architecture of the
60’s apartment with its corridors, right angles and blocked fields of
vision, captures the menace that suddenly appears in the core of the
relationships of the family. The camera understands this space. The
tracks that float out from close-up scrutiny of a scene to wide shot,
powerfully suggest the opening out of awareness to a new dimension.
The reveals such as across Mark and Anna as they lie in their bed,
the penetration of the camera into the darkness, all prime the viewer
to expectation. However the expectation is all there is, as after
these camera movements, the viewer is usually dropped back into
incoherent void that comprises P. But in itself the camera movement
is so assured and composed that it holds the incoherence together.
The final shot, around the spiral staircase, although empty in
content is so full of architectural form, as to almost be complete in

Adrin Neatrour


Author: Adrin Neatrour

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