The possessed has been delivered
February 19, 2016 1:01 AM   Subscribe

Andrzej Zulawski, the legendary Polish cult director, has died at the age of 75 after a long battle with cancer. A non-conformist visionary of world cinema, his approach to storytelling is idiosyncratic and characterised by explosions of violence, sexuality, and despair. The actors in his movies have played out the most intensely high-pitched emotions in cinema history which inspired the French to coin the term 'Żuławskien', meaning 'over the top'.

In honour of Zulawski, let us concentrate a bit on probably his most well know film, "Possession" that was initially heavily cut in the US and banned in the UK.

It's not mere 'Satan' that takes over Adjani's body - it's evil itself, albeit defined in purely secular terms. In a notoriously graphic scene of Adjani's hyperactive convulsions in the Berlin subway, Anna gives birth to something even the director hesitated to define - and yet it's that something that causes the world's fracture in the film

Zulawski shot and edited the film in a raw, frenetic style. The camera, as agitated and unstable as the characters, is forever moving, moving, moving, covering most of the interaction between the two leads in tight, claustrophobic shots that bore in so closely we can almost count the pores in their faces.

Stars Adjani and Neill often play for the nosebleed seats even while Żuławski keeps the camera claustrophobically close to their anguished faces. Which is not to say that either actor lacks nuance or depth, since both of their characters are wrung through an emotional wringer, conveying an astonishing range of emotional responses—and lack thereof. Adjani has gone on record to say it took her several years to recuperate from her performance in Possession.

Zulawski himself has said - quite pompously - that he does not care about viewers "who think that a movie is made only for their enjoyment, and who know nothing about their own existence." It’s worth noting, too, Żuławski’s unpretentious pitch to his American producer: “Possession is a film about a woman who fucks an octopus.” To which his American producer replied, with gusto, “Let’s do it! How much money do you need?”

Finally, here's a trailer (which is already, in itself, quite intensive and may not be suitable for everyone).
posted by sapagan (9 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
posted by acb at 1:51 AM on February 19, 2016

posted by hal9k at 2:51 AM on February 19, 2016

I only saw Possession for the first time only fairly recently: impressive as it is, Isabelle Adjani’s characterisation of it as ‘psychological pornography’ seemed apt.

From the third link above, a detail I wasn’t previously aware of: ‘After losing his right to work in Poland at the end of the 1970s and his marriage to Małgorzata Braunek fell apart, he went to New York with the aim of committing suicide. Andy Warhol talked him out of it and within ten days, in 1981, Żuławski wrote the screenplay for Possession….’

posted by misteraitch at 2:52 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by Chichibio at 8:08 AM on February 19, 2016


such amazing work... we won't see his like again.

I guess this is a good place to drop this video by Demdike Stare created from bits of Zulawski's unfinished but still incredible On the Silver Globe.
posted by remembrancer at 9:30 AM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I saw Possession at a Times Square movie theater back in the 80s. The previous month I had seen Pieces at the same theater so I thought I was prepared for anything. I was so wrong. Possession warped my mind. The scene in the subway station still gives me chills.
posted by cazoo at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2016


Someone around here held a screening of 'Possession' the night before -- it turned out -- Zulawski passed on. Strange...

But there's not much stranger stuff than the movie itself. The octopus-fucking was actually the least strange bit, I thought. It was almost a relief (!) compared to the psychological gnarl-gnash and tension of, uhh, every scene. Subway tunnel: unforgettable. Human emotion: just as terrifying. Checkpoint-era Berlin setting: perfect.

Am sinking into those links -- thank you for them.
posted by cluebucket at 10:31 AM on February 19, 2016

This is such a huge loss for world cinema, I'm still kind of shocked. So far, 2016 is some bullshit.

It's worth noting that he released a film just last year, an adaptation of Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz (author of Ferdydurke, itself adapted by another great Polish director, Jerzy Skolimowski).

And if this sad news is anyone's introduction to Zulawski and you want to investigate further, I highly recommend looking into Mondo Vision, a DVD label founded solely to release Zulawski's films. Their releases include a great deal of context (from Zulawski himself and Daniel Bird, a scholar of Eastern European cinema who's also written about Roman Polanski, Juraj Herz and Walerian Borowczyk) and, most importantly, are gorgeous. The Video Nasties idiocy gave Zulawski an undeserved reputation for trashiness, but he (and his cinematographers, especially Sacha Vierny on La Femme Publique) had an unbelievable eye.
posted by Merzbau at 12:28 PM on February 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Almost forgot! For the curious, Cinefamily of Los Angeles created a set of trailers for a screening series in 2012. One of the links is broken; here's the trailer for On the Silver Globe.
posted by Merzbau at 12:34 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older The Perfect Democratic Stump Speech (sl538)   |   Something New From This Old House Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments