A Belgian girl, Carol, works as a manicurist at a London beauty salon. While having lunch, a good looking young man, Colin, spots her and makes a date for another evening. She shares a flat with her sister Helen. Her sister's married lover, Michael, brings out her dislike of men which she cannot explain to Colin. Michael takes Helen abroad for a holiday. Left alone in their flat, Carol's moments of catalepsy and hallucination increase and deepen into madness.
Catherine Deneuve ... Carole Ledoux
Ian Hendry ... Michael
John Fraser ... Colin
Yvonne Furneaux ... Hélène Ledoux
Patrick Wymark ... Landlord
Renee Houston ... Miss Balch
Valerie Taylor ... Madame Denise
James Villiers ... John
Helen Fraser ... Bridget
Hugh Futcher ... Reggie
Monica Merlin ... Mrs. Rendlesham
Director: Roman Polanski
Runtime: 105 mins
Codecs: XVid / MP3
Carole Ledoux is a young French woman living in a London flat with her sister, Helene. After initially clashing with her over her boyfriend staying in the flat, Carole is relieved when he takes Helene away for the week to Europe. However, her already nervy disposition becomes increasingly worse as she stays in the flat by herself – seeing the walls crumble around her and the constant threat from groping, violating men as her sanity quickly falls apart.
Shown as the ongoing season of Polanski films currently being shown on the occasionally wonderful channel BBC4, this attracted me even though I am far from being Polanski's biggest fan – suffice to say his name is not an attraction for me. However I decided to give this a go simply because I had never seen it before and didn't know anything about it. After about an hour I must say that I partly agreed with those on this site who just say it was dull – partly anyway. The film is slow and it will appear to be totally plotless to those who are unable (or unwilling) to actually apply their brain to the material. To me the plot built an interesting picture of a woman suffering from childhood experiences and this was done without forcing it down our throats. Yes, at times it is just way too slow but for my money that was a necessary evil as, a) Carole's mental collapse is slow and b) the slow pace helps add to the tension of the film.
And the tense atmosphere is the main thing here – others have said the film is scary like a horror movie, I disagree; I think it is just consistently unnerving and slightly disturbing in its subject matter. The deal clincher for me is Polanski's direction, which uses the slow script to good effect and, to me, prevented it's slow pace being as boring as some viewers mistook it to be. He fills the screen with small detail which made me uncomfortable for reasons that I wasn't sure of – what I was being shown just made me shift uneasily ever so slightly. From this we visually see Carole fall to pieces by being shown her sanity (or lack of it) through her eyes; the film is stronger for scenes that we are not sure are real or not and these range from the creeping to the sudden – with all in between having equal if differing impact. The direction made the plot work for me because in terms of words very little can be taken from the film – it is all implied in what the camera allows us to see. Polanski seems to know what he wants us to see and understand and he does very well to mix that with the need for tension and a creepy atmosphere.
Denevue is very good in the lead role and manages to convey a lot with looks and body language – even her eye in the opening credits shows a terrible lot of fear. She looks like she is really feeling the sort of emotions that the visuals suggest that her character is feeling and I really thought her performance and Polanski's direction matched each other spot on. Furneaux is good in a smaller role as well as throwing in a little in-joke in the shape of a reference to La Dolce Vita. The men in the cast are all pretty good – some of them are nice guys but most of them are pretty realistic in terms of being a little leering and add some validity to Carole's fear.
Overall this is a very effective film with a creepy atmosphere that builds to things that genuinely unnerved me a little bit. The plot is interesting as it reveals Carole's past through implication and visual detail, however it is Polanski's direction that makes this worth seeing. He builds the plot with the movement of the camera rather than the script and his framing of shots and clever visual effects all paint a convincing representation of Carole's neuroses.
"Repulsion" is a great example of how to make a truly scary movie: The trick is not to fill the screen with monsters or indestructible serial killers, it is to portray fear in a way that will be familiar to the audience. It is clear from early on in the film that the lead character, Carol, played brilliantly by an extremely young-looking Catherine Deneuve, is not exactly normal. When her sister leaves her alone in their shared London apartment for a few days, however, the things that scare Carol are the sorts of things that have scared a lot of people spending the night alone, such as hearing (imagined) footsteps in the hallway and the like. Of course, while normal people get a brief fright from such a thing, Carol descends into a madness of hallucinations. The movie is seen almost entirely from her point of view, using techniques borrowed by later directors such as Darren Aronofsky for his movie, "Pi", which gives the entire movie a claustrophobic feeling that enhances the impact of Carol's hallucinations.
There are no doubt people who would like to explicate this film as an exploration of sexual repression or the like, and perhaps they are indeed hitting the mark in doing so, but this film works brilliantly as pure cinema, with no metaphoric subtext needed.
This film, the first Polanski made in English, works so well, and for so many different reasons, that I felt like I had to watch it again as soon as it ended.
From the first moments of the movie, Polanski sets up the key conflict, cutting between shots of Catherine Denuve's gorgeous face and of the things she is seeing, all of which are almost frighteningly ugly by comparison. After fifteen minutes of this, it becomes clear why Denuve's Carol is unable to cope with anything in the world around her, and why she is so dependent on her sister and her attractive female co-worker, who provide the film's only beauty other than Denuve. When her sister leaves her alone, her surroundings decay further into ugliness, sending her deeper into her madness. I loved the way that despite Carol's growing insanity, Polanski keeps going back to closeups of her face, which remains beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that no one can seem to notice that she is clearly very deranged.
The only question the film left me with is this: How could Carol possibly survived for an entire lifetime up till the point where the film began?
* Director Cameo: [Roman Polanski] spoons player.
* This film, along with Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Locataire, Le (1976), forms a loose trilogy by Roman Polanski about the horrors of apartment/city dwelling.
* The scene where Catherine Deneuve stumbles across the bridge and down the street was filmed at Hammersmith Bridge, London.
* Features the first depiction of female orgasm (sound only) to be passed by the British Board of Film Censors.
* Roman Polanski's first English language film.
* Premiere voted this movie as one of "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies".