This week’s entry in Hit Me With Your Best Shot over at TheFilmExperience is just in time for Halloween! If you missed last week’s entry with A Room with a View, check out our submission here and see submissions from our pals across the web here!
Oh, where to start with Repulsion?
Filled to the brim with iconic imagery loaded with symbolic significance, Repulsion has reputation of skeezy elegance. Among it’s cinematic disciples are the filmography of David Lynch and Black Swan. Largely within the confines of an increasingly filthy and claustrophobic (though physically expanding) apartment, Catherine Deneuve’s French maiden cracks under the oppressive male gaze of the city, loosing every damn marble in the bag. Director Roman Polanski uses his elegant visual mastery and the iconic beauty of his muse to sophisticate an otherwise mangy exercise. Shot in a sweaty, bleeding black and white, the imagery is often as off-putting as it is compelling.
Finding a best shot in Repulsion wouldn’t require a deep dive. The film is packed with visual chutzpah and wizardry, each nightmare followed by another in rapid succession, almost as if the shocks are indifferent towards one another. Its visual devil box swings madly from the grotesque to the thematically disturbing to the dooziest of unexpected jump scares. With this much to choose from, “best” is a tough call. So… what did I choose?
I was struck on this viewing by Polanski’s use of surveillance. Here as Deneuve’s Carol is visited by her unrelenting suitor, a neighbor woman shamelessly watches for an inordinate amount of time. First giving me a small giggle as she stops in her tracks to eavesdrop, I expected her to be gone when hidden in the frame. But then Colin turns away again, and there she is unstirred. Sinister or innocuous, but invasive either way.
Carol’s growing paranoia is caused by the watchful eye of men she experiences in the world: men leering, invading her space, persuing her despite objection. She works as a (nail-biting) manicurist, surrounded by idealistic views of women, contrasted by her sister embracing sexual indiscretion with a married man, who Carol views as an invader. Whether men or women expect her to be an unrealistic angel or a relatable tart, someone is always watching and imposing some socio-sexual construct.
Just as Colin is casually subjugating Carol, this shot is casually disturbing. Perhaps on previous viewings, I was wowed by the more bombastic images, but I think I was moreso surprised by moments like this for their subtlety. The film is known for its ongoing ability to shock and enrage, still remaining a firecracker for feminist critique. Fully expecting to engage with those themes (and the film can fuel flames on both sides of that analysis), I was reminded that simple and quiet treasures in a film have as much claim over a film’s relevance as the major talking points.
Repulsion is available on the Criterion Collection.