Thursday, August 1, 2013

Blu-ray Review: POSSESSION (1981)

Label: Second Sight Films
Region Code: 
Rating: Cert. 18
Duration: 124 Minutes
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: LPCM 1.0 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Director: Andrzej Żuławski
Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Heinz Bennent

Synopsis: With their marriage in tatters Anna (Adjani) and Mark’s (Neill) tense relationship hasbecome a psychotic descent into screaming matches, violence and self-mutilation. Believing his wife’s only lover is the sinister Heinrich, Mark is unaware of the diabolical, tentacled creature that Anna has embarked on an affair with. The unhinged woman visits her monstrous lover in a deserted Berlin apartment and will stop at nothing to protect him.With its dark subject matter and high gore quotient, Possession is not for the faint hearted.

The Film: Possession (1981)  is the harrowing story of a young couple Anna (Isabelle Adjani – Subway) and Mark (Sam Neill – Jurassic Park), as their relationship deteriorates into madness, these two people crumble under the weight of the cold distance that's developed between them, they just can't seem connect in anywayl, they're completely disconnected from each other. Their lives have devolved into daily screaming matches punctuated by outbursts of violence, as Mark becomes more obsessive she becomes more unhinged and distanced. When she asks for a divorce Mark suspects that his wife is having an affair and his fears are confirmed with the revelation of a lover named Heinrich (Heinz Bennent – The Tin Drum)... but she also has another more sinister lover, one more supernatural in nature that neither men know of.

Despite the affair Mark refuses to give her the divorce, soon after Anna flees apartment in the dark of the night, leaving Mark alone to care for their young son Ben. Already a hot mess Mark further spirals out of control without her, slipping in and out of manic and catatonic states, losing his already tenuous grip on reality. He seeks and confronts Heinrich about the affair, Mark attempts to assault his wife's lover but is instead bloodied by the the man who reveals that Anna's left him as well, he has no idea where she might have gone. Returning home Mark finds Anna at the apartment, he confronts here about her whereabouts and beats her bloody before she storms off. The next day a venomous argument in the kitchen results in Anna taking an electric-knife to her neck, in the aftermath Mark can be seen in the kitchen cutting his own arm repeatedly with the same knife. Yeah these two aren't healthy for each other  dysfunctional doesn't even begin to capture what's happening here.

After the neck-shredding wound Anna again disappears and Mark hires a private eye to track down his wife, in the interim he takes up a brief affair with his son's school teacher Helen (also played by Adjani). The investigator tracks her down to a shitty unfurnished apartment and under false pretense gains access to the dwelling, inside he discovers a strange tentacled creature and Anna's slashes him with a broken-bottle, now the film gets even stranger! More deaths, more psychotic behavior and a freakish apocalyptic ending, it gets a bit confusing but I gotta say that I loved this film!

What a weird and beautiful film, they just don't make 'em like this anymore, that's for sure! A strange, frenzied psychological thriller set in the shadow of the oppressive East Berlin Wall. Sam Neil and Isabelle Adjani are fantastic in their unhinged performances, particularly Adjani who gives a terrifying performance during a subway miscarriage/possession scene, it was pretty gut-wrenching stuff as she seeps various fluids from pretty much every possible orifice, bizarre stuff! Neil is an underrated actor, this might be my favorite performance, definitely check out him out in Even Horizon (1997) and John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (1995). The film also benefits from some grotesque special effects and make-up from Italian legend Carlo Rambaldi (Alien, Dune) but what anchors the film are the passionate and erratic performances from the two leads, daring stuff that t times threaten to go off the rails but I think they're great, particularly Adjan who completely loses herself in the role, truly a bravura performance.

A few quick facts, the film was banned in the UK as a Video Nasty alongside the films of Lucio Fulcio and Dario Argento but watching it now I can hardly see why, it's harrowing and creepy but not overly offensive or even that graphic. Apparently much like David Cronenberg during The Brood director Andrzej Żuławski was enduring a bitter divorce with his wife at the time with a child thrown into the mix, you can see it's influence on the film. In the US the film was re-edited and cut by some forty minutes with a new score and some poorly executed solarization effects, this edition is the original director's features. 

Blu-ray: Andrzej Żuławski's Possession (1981) arrives on Region-B locked Blu-ray for the first time from the UK's Second Sight Films with an MPEG-4 AVC encode, presented in 1080p widescreen (1.66:1) it's looks quite nice in it's restored glory. Sourced from a gorgeous print with nice strong colors and a fair amount of depth, this is a very pleasing presentation. Some of the darker shadow detail is lacking from time to time but overall this is a very nice image with some nice hi-def clarity, cinematographer Bruno Nuytten's excellent visuals have never looked better than on this Blu-ray, great shots and framing from start to finish, a very striking film.

The English language LPCM 1.0 mono audio is nice, the sound design is fantastic with a creepy but sparse score from Andrzej Korzynski - it's powerful stuff, definitely a film that brings the visual and audio elements together in superb fashion. Unfortunately we don't get a stereo or surround mix but what we get sounds quite nice, dialogue, effects and score are balanced and crisp, there are also optional English SDH subtitles.  

Onto the special features we get two audio commentaries, one with director  Andrzej Żuławski and a second with co-writer Frederic Zulawaski, a fantastic 51 minute retrospective making of documentary and interviews with director Andrzej Żuławski, composer Andrzej Korzynski and producer Christian Ferry. We also get two featurettes, one about the artist who created the theatrical artwork and a second  featuring a comparison of the original cut and the awful re-cutting of the film for cinemas in the U.S., I love these type of features! The last f the extras is a theatrical trailer, this is quite an outstanding set of extras.  There's no uncut version of the film on Blu-ray in the U.S. so if you love this film get yourself a region-free Blu-ray player, it's so worth it!

Special Features: 
- The Other Side of the Wall - The Making of Possession
- Audio Commentary with Andrzej Żuławski
- Audio Commentary with Frederic Tuten
- Andrzej Żuławski Interview
- Repossessed – The Re-Editing of Possession
- A Divided City – Interview with the composer Andrzej Korzynski
- Our Friend in the West – Interview with legendary producer Christian
- Basha – featurette on the artist who created the famed film poster
- Theatrical Trailer

Verdict: Possession (1981) is a taut, paranoid psychological thriller with some nice horrific elements and arthouse leanings, it's a tense bit of insanity that makes for a rewarding and uncomfortable watch. Second Sight continue to put out some fantastic Blu-ray editions with awesome special features, a high recommend! I will definitely be checking out more films from Polish auteur Andrzej Żuławski after this mesmerizing introduction, great stuff.  4 Outta 5