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Repulsion is a 1965 British psychological horror film directed by Roman Polanski and based on a story by Polanski and Gérard Brach, who wrote the screenplay with David Stone. It stars Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Patrick Wymark, and Yvonne Furneaux. The main character Carol (Catherine Deneuve) is a beautiful yet withdrawn woman who finds men and sexual advances repulsive. She is left alone in an apartment in a vacation, becoming ever more isolated and lost in her psychological detachment from reality. The film focuses on the point of view of Carol and her vivid hallucinations and nightmares as she comes into contact with men and their desires for her. Shot in London, it is Polanski's first English-language film and second feature-length production, following Knife in the Water (1962).
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Roman Polanski|
|Produced by||Gene Gutowski|
|Screenplay by||Roman Polanski|
|Story by||Roman Polanski|
|Music by||Chico Hamilton|
|Edited by||Alastair McIntyre|
|Color process||Black and white|
Tekli British Productions
|Distributed by||Compton Films|
|Box office||$3.1 million|
The film debuted at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival before receiving theatrical releases internationally. Upon its release, Repulsion received considerable critical acclaim and currently is considered one of Polanski's greatest works. The film was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Gilbert Taylor's cinematography.
Carol Ledoux, a beautiful Belgian manicurist, lives in London with her older sister Helen. Carol is remarkably detached and struggles in her daily interactions. A suitor, Colin, is enamored with her and makes fervent attempts to court her, but Carol seems uninterested. When home, she enjoys looking out the window to see a group of nuns outside of their church playing soccer. Carol is troubled by her sister's relationship with a man named Michael, whom she seems to dislike. She is bothered by his habit of leaving his razor and toothbrush in her glass in the bathroom. At night she is unable to sleep, haunted by the sounds of her sister's lovemaking. They are also constantly pestered by their landlord to pay their rent. When Carol walks home from work, she is bothered by a crack in the sidewalk. Colin happens upon her and she struggles to respond when he talks to her. He drives her home and tries to kiss her several times but she pulls away, running upstairs and vigorously brushing her teeth before weeping. That night Helen questions Carol for throwing away Michael's belongings. At the manicure salon, Carol becomes increasingly distant, barely talking to her coworkers and customers, so much so that her boss decides to send her home for the day. After Helen and Michael leave for Italy on holiday, Carol is left alone in the apartment. At home, Carol takes a rabbit out of the fridge for dinner. Instead of cooking it, she is distracted by a number of Michael's possessions left around the apartment, including a used article of his clothing, which she smells and makes her vomit. After trying on one of her sister's dresses, she sees a dark figure in the mirror. That night, she hears footsteps outside her bedroom.
Her isolation begins to take its toll on her. One morning she runs a bath and walks away, causing it to overflow. As she turns on a light, the wall cracks open. She locks herself in her room and again hears footsteps. This time, she hallucinates that a man breaks into her room and rapes her. She is awoken in the hallway by a phone call from Colin but she hangs up. Carol misses three days of work. As she is giving a manicure, she stabs her client in the finger and is sent home early. The uncooked rabbit's head is in her purse. At the apartment, she looks at an old family photo and the wall behind the photograph shatters like a mirror. After continuously being ignored, Colin shows up at her apartment. She refuses to open the door so he breaks in. He declares his love for her, and she responds by clubbing him to death with a candlestick. She cleans the blood, barricades the door, and places Colin's corpse in the bathtub. In bed, she goes through the same rape hallucination. She wakes up the next morning, naked on the floor. Later, she walks down the dark hallway of her apartment where hands appear out of the walls and grab her. Later, the angry wife of Michael calls looking for Helen, causing Carol to cut the wire of the telephone.
The landlord comes looking for the rent. After he is unable to get in due to the barricade, he breaks into the apartment and sees Carol. She pays him the rent, but he is disgusted by the state of the apartment. He sees the uncooked rabbit, still sitting out, rotting. He propositions her, offering to forget about the rent, and makes an aggressive pass at her but she hacks him to death with Michael's straight razor. She then sinks deeper into hallucination.
When Helen and Michael arrive home, Helen is dismayed at the state of the place. Michael happens on Helen hyperventilating and finds Colin's dead body in the bath. Helen finds Carol under her bed in a catatonic state. Her neighbors flood in as Michael picks her up and carries her out, smiling. The final scene pans over items in the apartment, settling on a family photo showing Carol as a child, blankly staring down an older man we can assume is her father, while others in the photo smile for the camera.
- Catherine Deneuve as Carol Ledoux
- Ian Hendry as Michael
- John Fraser as Colin
- Yvonne Furneaux as Helen Ledoux
- Patrick Wymark as Landlord
- Renée Houston as Miss Balch
- Valerie Taylor as Madame Denise
- James Villiers as John
- Helen Fraser as Bridget
- Hugh Futcher as Reggie
- Monica Merlin as Mrs. Rendlesham
- Imogen Graham as Manicurist
- Mike Pratt as Workman
Prior to production of Repulsion, director Roman Polanski was experiencing a change in life. Deciding not to return to communist Poland, nor his birthplace of Paris, he had finally decided to move to London. Here he's stated "Repulsion was my discovery of London. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the Anglo-Saxon world: language, objects, sets, people. It was new to me and I was tremendously inspired."
The story for Repulsion was conceived by Polanski and Gérard Brach, who wrote an outline of the script in Paris. They had originally planned on making another film, but the production house wanted to make something that would be a little more commercial. And so the screenplay for a horror film about a woman's psychological paranoia of men was written. According to Polanski, the film was shot on a modest budget of £65,000. To finance the film, Polanski and producer Gene Gutowski approached Paramount Pictures and British Lion Films, but both companies refused. Eventually, Polanski and Gutowski signed a contract with Compton Pictures, a small distribution company that had been known primarily for its distribution of softcore pornography films.
The film would be a challenge, as Roman Polanski didn't know London very well, and could barely speak English. The main actress was French, so neither the director, nor actress spoke English. He had asked his producer Gene Gutowski where he thought these characters would live? To which he replied "South Kensington", which would wind up being the location for the film.
The film was shot in black and white by Gilbert Taylor, who had recently worked on Dr. Strangelove and A Hard Day's Night. Taylor photographed the apartments of female friends in Kensington for inspiration.
The film was scored by Chico Hamilton. The official "soundtrack" was issued on CD in 2008 by British label Harkit, which specialized in British soundtracks from the 60s. The original music was made on a vinyl issued by the Italian label CAM. Some songs on the soundtrack, are not even heard in the film, such as "Seduction in the Dark" and "Repulsion Nocturne."
Themes and styleEdit
It has been suggested that the film hints that her father may have sexually abused her as a child, which is the basis of her neuroses and breakdown. Other critics have noted Carol's repeated usage of items related to her sister's boyfriend Michael, as well as noting that his presence greatly provokes Carol at the beginning of the film.
The film also approaches the theme of boundary breaking, with Tamar McDonald stating that she saw Carol as refusing to conform to the expected "path of femininity".
It increasingly adopts the perspective of its protagonist. The dream sequences are particularly intense.
Repulsion was the first installment in Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy", followed by Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976), both of which are horror films that also take place primarily inside apartment buildings.
Film critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave the film a positive review stating, "An absolute knockout of a movie in the psychological horror line has been accomplished by Roman Polanski in his first English-language film." Jim Emerson, filling in for Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, included the film in his list entitled "102 Movies You Must See Before...".
Upon the film's release to DVD, Dave Kehr reviewed the film for The New York Times praising the film's techniques and themes, saying, "Mr. Polanski uses slow camera movements, a soundtrack carefully composed of distracting, repetitive noises (clocks ticking, bells ringing, hearts thumping) and, once Carol barricades herself in the cramped, dark apartment, explicitly expressionistic effects (cracks suddenly ripping through walls, rough hands reaching out of the darkness to grope her) to depict a plausible schizophrenic episode."
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 95% of 64 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 8.87/10. The consensus states "Roman Polanski's first English film follows a schizophrenic woman's descent into madness, and makes the audience feel as claustrophobic as the character." As of June 2019, the film is number 52 on Rotten Tomatoes' list of best rated films. Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 91 based on 8 reviews.
At the 15th Berlin International Film Festival in 1965, Repulsion won both the FIPRESCI Prize and the Silver Berlin Bear-Extraordinary Jury Prize. The film was also nominated for a BAFTA in Best Black and White Cinematography.
In 2009, the film was released as part of The Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-ray. Both releases contain two documentary featurettes, audio commentary by Roman Polanski and Catherine Deneuve, original trailers, and a 16-page booklet.
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