Roman Polanski is a controversial figure, to say the least. Just this year Polanski has been accused of the sexual assault of another underage woman in the ‘70s. Polanski’s life apart from his personal crimes has been no less surreal. He survived the Holocaust at a young age and in 1969 his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson Family. Of course, neither of those excuse his actions.
Honestly, Polanski’s personal history makes writing about his films incredibly difficult. The more I read about Polanski the harder it is to appreciate his accomplishments. This is a man who recently said “trying to level the genders is purely idiotic.” “Offering flowers to a lady has become indecent … The pill has greatly changed the place of women in our times, masculinizing her. It chases away the romance in our lives.” Jesus Christ.
The more I read the more I wish I could have found another horror Criterion from this period to review. What’s difficult is there is no denying Polanski’s contributions to art and cinema, particularly his films about women. Repulsion is a film about a woman who is not only repulsed by the sexual advances of men but fearful to the point of violence. The question being is this because Polanski understands women or because he knows how to exploit their fears from his experiences as a man?
Repulsion is the story of Carol (Catherine Deneuve) a Belgian manicurist who lives in London with her more amorous sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Distracted at home by her sister’s constant sexual activity, Carol is thrown deeper and deeper into isolation. She loses her grip on her surroundings. In one scene, she goes as far as accidentally drawing blood from a customer’s fingernail. It gets worse.
Later, Carol’s landlord (Patrick Wymark) comes after her for late rent. Their encounter leads to sexual assault which results in Carol killing the man with a straight razor. This drives Carol into a catatonic state where we never quite learn the origin behind her repulsion towards men.
The middle of the film is mostly filled with awkward encounters and lonely walks set to a busy jazz score to set a mood of discomfort. It’s effective as a horror movie despite being more of an independent character-study and is as stylish as it is unsettling.
But again, does this story exist because Polanski feels for women, or because he knows how to play the role of villain? I can’t say for sure and I’m trying to look at this film subjectively, though it’s incredibly difficult. I think it’s best for each viewer to make that call. Or not. If you’re uncomfortable with Polanski than don’t watch his films. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to watch his films, as good as they are. There are some things out there scarier than horror films.