“Possession” (1981)


By Jerome Reuter

Synopsis: A spy returns home from assignment to find his home life in complete disarray.

Very few films have ever been able to match the visual style of Andrzej Zulawsky’s 1981 magnum opus. The Polish born director passed not to long ago, but his legacy remains cemented in the filmography he left behind. Possession boasts a great amount to attention to detail, visceral imagery, and a brilliant use of color contrast. It’s a work that’s both thought provoking, and open to interpretation. If you ask 6 different people what it’s about, you’re very likely to get six different answers. It’s also hugely influential, having made a mark on works such as Hellraiser and Calvaire. It also happens to be a film that’s way ahead of its time, and one the American audience might not have been ready for in 1981.

Zulawsky sets his narrative in cold war era Berlin, and within the first few moments we’re transported to a town barren, cold, and empty. In a segment reminiscent of Night & Fog, the bright color the blue sky contrasts with the cold steel of urban blight. It’s within the confines of the city where we’re introduced to a typical family slowly unraveling and descending into a world of madness, sadomasochism, and deviation.

Scenes from a marriage: Mark and Anna

The idea of setting things up in Berlin takes on a deeper meaning than one might expect. In several scenes the wall is present, and sets up two of the films dominant themes. The first one being division, as our married couple, Mark and Anna grow further apart from one another. The second aspect is voyeurism. A great deal of the films more memorable sequences take place in confined spaces. More than once we see our characters looking at the guards positioned at the wall, and the guards looking back. Zulawsky’s camera work further establishes this with its fluid tracking movements, giving us a bird’s eye view of the situation at hand.

Much like Repulsion, we’re taken on a journey into an isolated descent into madness. Very little of the outside world is actually shown, and when it is, it’s extremely barren. More focus is drawn to our two characters, more than anything else. The relationship between Mark and Anna is an intriguing one. It’s not just dissolution of a marriage; it’s a complete breakdown. It’s also one heavily laden with infidelity, abuse, and perversion. Despite what the title of this film might lead you to believe, it’s about a possession of a different kind. Not a demonic force at work, but one of having complete control of your partner; in both mind and body.

One of the greatest attributes is the attention to detail, such as wardrobe and color. Aside from the opening shot, there’s a brilliant use of color contrast throughout. The first being Anna’s wardrobe. As we saw in a great amount of films from the Technicolor era, wardrobe is one of the best ways to display character arc and development. Here, her wardrobe remains consistent throughout, while everyone else’s changes in slight ways over time. This further establishes her as the films primary focus, and indicates that though she doesn’t change, her environment around her does.

Tri-Color: yellow sign, blue dress, red car.

With most of the backgrounds having a drab appearance to them, there are subtle uses of color schemes to train our eyes to focus on certain scenes. Much of these use a lot of red and yellow to contrast with Anna’s blue dress. It’s a subtle technique, one you might miss on your first viewing.

In recent years, Possession has gained a larger following, and has been restored to its original cut. It’s a fitting tribute to one of horrors most underrated auteurs. It’s one people should appreciate, and one that I hold in high regard.





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