Film Review: Repulsion

Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychological thriller Repulsion packs a punch in the unnerving atmosphere it creates. Filmed in black and white, this low-budget picture was Polanski’s first English-language feature.

Repulsion‘s narrative centres on Carol, a beautiful but distant French girl living with her sister in London. As the film progresses, her psychosis becomes more and more severe, resulting in cataclysmic effects.

Repulsion exhibits the artistry of Polanski’s direction. The opening shot of a close-up of Carol’s eye immediately grabs the attention. This is followed up by many lingering shots, almost a visual interpretation of the protagonist’s mindset. Sound is also used to great effect in the picture; the ticking clock is particularly disturbing, for both Carol and the viewer.

Catherine Deneuve excels in playing Carol with the understated reticence required. Her disintegration is both disturbing and compelling to watch. Part of the brilliance of Repulsion is that it does not explain the reasons behind Carol’s psychosis. Whilst there are hints, the audience is left to make up their own mind about possible causes.

With the hindsight of what followed in Polanski’s personal life, some of the themes of the film seem unsettling in retrospect. Nonetheless, Repulsion stands as a landmark in the genre, as well as one of the director’s biggest triumphs.

Repulsion was shown at the British Film Institute, as part of the Psycho: A Classic in Context season.

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