At Brattle, cult abstract films ‘Possession’ and ‘Arrebato’ return to the screen

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The scariest horror movies – for this reviewer, anyway – operate on a logic all their own. We live in literal-minded boring times, with Vox explainers, Reddit threads, and entire subsections of the internet devoted to explaining any ambiguity as if movies are crossword puzzles to solve instead of artwork. art to experiment. Yet for those of us who prefer Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch’s abstractions to M. Night Shyamalan and Christopher Nolan’s exhibit, the scariest films remain the most stubbornly unknowable, and the Brattle Theater is bringing back a few doozies this this month. Although they were never properly released in the United States, Andrzej Żuławski’s “Possession” in 1981 and Iván Zulueta’s “Arrebato” in 1979 have built up strong followers on the midnight and smuggling circuits over the course of of the past 40 years. Now, they’ve finally officially arrived in some nifty new restorations and you think you might be ready, but you’re not.

Żuławski’s “Possession” is a singular cinematic experience and arguably the greatest breakup film ever made, in which all the bubbling emotions that accompany it are exteriorized and detached from any recognizable reality. Sam Neill plays the role of a spy who returns home to Berlin after a long mission to discover that during his absence, his wife – a ballet teacher played by Isabelle Adjani – has made contact with another man. In a scathing rebuke to the then popular and tasteful relationship woes of Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage” and Robert Benton’s “Kramer vs. Kramer”, the hapless couple from Żuławski begins the film by yelling at each other and it only gets worse from there. The point of no return for most of the audience comes early enough, when during an argument in the kitchen while cooking dinner, Adjani begins sawing his neck with an electric carving knife.

A still from the film “Possession” by director Andrzej Żuławski. (Courtesy of the Brattle Theater)

Żuławski’s camera constantly traverses these scenes, sinks too closely into the actors’ personal spaces and turns around them in incomplete semicircles. The performances are designed more like modern dance than anything that looks like regular demeanor, shouted dialogue and their elongated movements nervous and deliberately unnatural. There is never a moment of rest. Neill throws himself back and forth violently in a rocking chair as Ajani maniacally crushes his wrists together, fingers twitching. (Some of the scenes would have been shot under hypnosis.) This is the most lopsided movie I’ve ever seen, and that’s before we get to the endangered detectives and doppelgängers, or when she starts to sneak up to have graphic sex with a giant, slimy sprawling monster.

The film’s notorious centerpiece is a surprisingly sustained acrobatic disturbance fit in a subway tunnel by Adjani, throwing himself against the walls while doing some sort of alien miscarriage, spouting gooey goo from every orifice. Adjani won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival that year, as well as the César, the French equivalent of the Oscar, and perhaps should have received a Medal of Bravery as well, all things considered. “Possession” was hardly received so warmly elsewhere; the film was banned in the UK via the ‘video villain’ list and cut to 40 minutes – one-third of its airtime – for limited video release in the US. (Funny, I was told that the Anthology Film Archives in New York City keep a copy of uławski’s cut and release it every Valentine’s Day.)

Yet despite all this madness, I would dare say that the film is quite moving, and cohesive where it counts. Anyone who’s been through a bad breakup will recognize Żuławski’s staging of seasickness and upside down as emotionally truthful, but hyperbolically realized, with creature effects and kitchen knife compulsions replacing attraction and laziness. repulsion from two people who can’t stop hurting you. The film shows a sly sense of its own ridiculousness, while at the same time the lookalikes speak of deep fears of being replaced in our lovers’ lives, with the disgusting visuals being our most jealous imaginations of what they do without. we. “Possession” isn’t going to tell you where these monsters came from. But if you’re old enough to watch it, you probably already know it.

A still from the film by director Iván Zulueta "Arrebato." (Courtesy of the Brattle Theater)
A still from the film “Arrebato” by director Iván Zulueta. (Courtesy of the Brattle Theater)

“Arrebato” is much more of a slow-burning, languidly paced, in keeping with the abundant – and seemingly un-simulated – use of heroine by its doomed filmmaker, a thinly veiled replacement for director Zulueta himself, whose promising career as the star of the post-Franco Madrid film movement was interrupted by his habit. Eusebio Poncela stars as a disgusting horror movie hack whose ex-girlfriend (Cécilia Roth, Almodóvar regular) shows up at his apartment the same day he receives a mysterious film reel in the mail. of an old drugged friend. Both are bad news.

Like a 16mm version of “The Ring” crossed with a song by Velvet Underground, the film postulates invisible parasitic creatures that creep and feed on camera subjects as they are photographed, leaving blood-red spots on them. emulsions behind them. It is no surprise that “Arrebato” is loved by so many filmmakers – the re-release arrives heralded as “Pedro Almodóvar’s favorite horror film” – because it is a vampire flick in which the films themselves are the vampires. Cinema is another alluring and destructive drug that eats away at our afflicted heroes, who wallow here in decadence and some lavish, admittedly lavish.

Any attempt to explain the plot details would seem silly and likely make no sense. But the title translates to “Rapture” for a reason. What works is the film’s extremely malicious atmosphere and Zulueta’s lousy evocation of sex, drugs and movies as illicit pleasures to be enjoyed in the dark.


“Possession” takes place at the Brattle Theater from Friday November 12th through Thursday November 18th. “Arrebato” takes place from Friday November 19 to Sunday November 21.


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