Tag Archives: Andrzej Zulawski

252. POSSESSION (1981)

AKA The Night the Screaming Stops

Recommended

“…Viktor Shklovsky wrote about how the job of the artist was to come up with a device that made the familiar seem strange. The ‘strangeness’ sets our brain a challenge, and the process of dealing with it is engaging – not just on an intellectual level, but an emotional one too… In Possession, Żuławski made a marital breakdown ‘strange’ by showing ‘the horror’ – this was not Scenes from a Marriage – it was something else.”–Daniel Bird

“Nothing wants to bite anymore – they want to lick.”– Andrzej Zulawski, from the Possession commentary track.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Heinz Bennent, Margit Carstensen, Carl Duering, Shaun Lawton

PLOT: Mark, an agent for some unspecified agency, returns home to his wife, Anna, and son in Berlin only to find that Anna has taken a lover. She splits her time between her home and her lover; however, Mark still wants her, causing extensive conflict between them. He uncovers a previous affair with a man named Heinrich, but she also left him for another—and finding the identity of her current lover leads to mayhem and a rising body count.

Still from Possession (1981)

BACKGROUND:

  • Andrzej Zulawski conceived Possession in the wake of several events—the collapse of his marriage to actress Małgorzata Braunek after being allowed to return to Poland from exile after the international success of 1975’s The Most Important Thing Is To Love, and the subsequent production and shutdown of On The Silver Globe and his second exile from Poland.
  • Zulawski originally pitched the film to Paramount Studio head Charlie Bluhdorn, calling it “a movie about a woman who f**ks an octopus.” They passed.
  • The film played at Cannes and Isabelle Adjani won “Best Actress,” sharing the award for her roles in both Possession and Merchant/Ivory’s Quartet.
  • The final film was chopped up by distributors. The U.S. release was notorious for being a total misrepresentation of the movie: the distributor removed about 40 minutes, reshuffled scenes, and added optical effects to play up and sell it as a horror movie. The Australian version made similar cuts. It wasn’t until 2000 that the original version was available to be seen in the U.S.
  • Possession was briefly released in the UK, but on videotape it was later banned as a “video nasty,” a classification intended for extreme horror films with no artistic merit.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a film with many memorable images, mainly close-ups of the characters in various stages of mania, the one that sticks is of Adjani’s Anna being serviced by something coiled around her… and writhing.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Pink socks; subway miscarriage; Anna’s lover

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It starts out as a domestic drama turned up to 11, which then goes up to 15. The intensity is compelling, especially when most other relationship films at the time went for quiet decorum. Possession throws all that right out the window. And then at the midway point, it drops the bottom out of expectations with the introduction of the Creature.


Possession international release trailer

COMMENTS: There seems to be no major disagreement about Possession joining a list of “weird” anything. The fur begins to fly in the Continue reading 252. POSSESSION (1981)

LIST CANDIDATE: ON THE SILVER GLOBE (1977/1988)

Na Srebrnym Globie

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jerzy Trela, Andrzej Seweryn, Iwona Bielska, Grazyna Dylaq, Jerzy Gralek, Krystyna Janda, Elizabeth Karkoszka, Maciej Goraj, Leszek Dlugosz, Jan Frycz

PLOT: An expedition crash lands on a planet, and the surviving astronauts establish a tribe and a religion explaining their origins. After a recording of the crash is found, another astronaut, Marek, is sent to investigate and is received as a messiah whose arrival has been prophesied. He becomes involved in a struggle against the planet’s original inhabitants, a birdlike race called the Sherms.

Still from On the Silver Globe

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One of the few science-fiction adaptations that can earn the adjective of “epic,” and not only in terms of not dumbing down its ideas in favor of effects. The Polish government attempted to kill it, and end its director’s career. Despite it being only 80% of a finished film, there are images that will remain in the mind long after.

COMMENTS: In the best of all possible worlds, On the Silver Globe would be more widely known for the epic saga it is intended to be rather than as an unfinished curiosity, and it would’ve been the blueprint for science-fiction cinema to follow, rather than George Lucas’ Star Wars. Or possibly not. After all, its source material, “The Lunar Trilogy” written by Jerzy Zulawski (Andrzej’s great-uncle), which Stanislaw Lem acknowledged as an influence on his own writing, STILL has never gotten an English translation, making it unknown in the U.S. and other English speaking countries. This is one of the few films where its backstory is as fascinating as the actual film.

To wit: after the success of The Most Important Thing Is to Love, the exiled Zulawski was allowed to return to Poland to work. It was at this time that his marriage collapsed and his wife left (we’ll get to that later on…), and he chose to adapt his great uncle’s trilogy. Two years of work went into the enterprise, with most of the shooting done in 1976 and 1977, until the Deputy Minister of Culture and Art, Janusz Wilhelmi, saw some of the footage and in June 1977, ordered the production to shut down. Props, scenery and costumes were warehoused and/or destroyed; Zulawski was once again persona non grata in Poland, couldn’t get any work, and was again forced to leave home. (Out of this experience came the cult favorite Possession). Wilhelmi died in a plane crash the following year (1978), but despite several attempts to resurrect the project, authorities refused to release the existing material; some of the crew members managed to save what they could, but to no avail. By 1986, the regime in Poland had collapsed, but it was too late—too much material had been lost, several actors had died, and cinematic sci-fi was by then firmly caught in the throes of Star Wars‘s aftermath. However, what was left of the film could indeed be presented in some Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ON THE SILVER GLOBE (1977/1988)

CAPSULE: L’ IMPORTANT C’EST D’AIMER (1975) [THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO LOVE]

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Fabio Testi, Jacques Dutronc, Roger Blin, Claude Dauphin,

PLOT: Nadine Chevalier (Schneider) is an actress on the verge of being ‘over the hill’ and acting in films far beneath her talent. Servais Mont (Testi) is a freelance photographer who also shoots pornography for a local crime lord (Dauphin), paying off a debt. They meet on a film set and a definite connection is established and acknowledged; however, Nadine is married to Jacques (Dutronc), a film buff and dreamer, and is still devoted to him.

In love, Servais helps her by anonymously backing a play with a part for her, borrowing the money from a crime lord. But things do not work out as hoped, ending with violence and suicide—and a glimmer of hope at the end.

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WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Compared to Zulawski’s previous two films and the two to follow, this would probably be considered his first “normal” film, a romantic melodrama. However, no Zulawski film could be considered “normal”—the intensity is still there, but it stays within the confines of the real world the film establishes, rather than spinning off into its own universe. Plus, it has Klaus Kinski. The Important Thing Is to Love may not be full-on “weird,” but it’s worth a look on its own terms.

COMMENTS:  After the Polish Government effectively banned Diabel and kicked Zulawski out of Poland, he went back to France where he had studied and worked earlier before becoming a director. He worked as a script doctor and appeared in some films before being approached with this project, based on a novel by Christopher Frank, “La Nuit Americaine.”

At heart, the movie is a love story—well, a love triangle—but there’s plenty of room for some of Zulawski’s usual concerns: the cause of Art over Commercialism; the corruption and loss of innocence; friendship and betrayal. Also present is the use of doubling (note the open and close of the film); references to classical works (Shakespeare’s “Richard III” in this case); and, of course, staircases.

The best available release is Mondo Vision’s DVD, which comes in a special and a limited edition (the limited edition including an expanded booklet and a CD of the acclaimed score by Georges Delerue). The DVD also features a commentary by Zulawski and Daniel Bird, along with an interview with Zulawski. Audio is in the original French language, along with English and German dubs and English subtitles.

L’ Important C’est D’aimer was the second Zulawski film to get exposure in the West when it was featured on L.A.’s Z-Channel (as can be seen in Xan Cassavetes’ documentary Z-Channel: A Magnificent Obsession).

That Most Important... 1

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Though the films of Andrzej Zulawski are known for their boisterous energy and feverish excesses of sex, violence and the bizarre, his third film L’important c’est d’aimer (The Important Thing Is to Love) is tempered by a richly humanistic story and a shattering performance by Romy Schneider, which she considered to be (and many critics agree) her career zenith.”–Tim Lucas, Sight & Sound (DVD)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE DEVIL (1972)

Diabel

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:  Leszak Teleszynski, Wojciech Pszoniak, Malgorzata Braunek, Monika Niemczyk, Wiktor Sadecki, Iga Mayr, Anna Parzonka, Maciej Englert, Bozena Miefiodow

PLOT: In 1793, during the Prussian Army’s invasion of Poland, an imprisoned anti-royalist nobleman, Jakub, is freed by a Stranger-in-Black, for reasons unknown. Returning to his home and family, he finds only chaos and madness: his father dead, sister insane, his mother a prostitute, and his former fiance pregnant and now married to his best friend. Encouraged by the Stranger who comes and goes at will, Jakub starts dealing out some hardcore revenge with a straight razor and slipping further into madness; but, who is this Stranger and what exactly is his game?

diabel-3

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: This is perhaps the first Zulawski film that has most of the elements that he became known for in place. From the opening frame onward, it is completely balls-to-the-wall in intensity, making ‘s The Devils look like a model of restraint.

COMMENTS: “Tell me, does the world seem horrible to me because of my illness or because it is really like that?”

Zulawski’s second feature film was banned in Poland for 18 years (!) and essentially got him exiled to France. In an interview with Stephen Thrower and Daniel Bird for “Eyeball Magazine,” Zulawski explains the how and why of it.

At that time (1971),  a tragedy happened in Poland in this very repressive and bloody regime. A part of the Communist establishment wanted to seize power. In order to do this they devised a very clever trick. They provoked youth – innocent, naive university youth especially – to start a series of protests on the streets against censorship, lack of freedom. They did it on purpose. Then the Communists turned to the Russians, the landlords, saying ‘this government of Poland cannot control the population, so you have to fire them and take us because we know how to deal with them.’ They organized a savage repression of the Polish young people in March 1968… they destroyed the university education system and this generation of young people who were trapped into this protest went into oblivion. They are nothing today; they were never educated, they went to jail, etc. So I wanted to tell this story but obviously I couldn’t say it with the Polish government’s money. So I put it under the masks and costumes of the 18th Century, when several tragedies annihilated Poland and the situation was about the same. It’s the story of a police provocateur who infiltrates a group of young people preparing something patriotic and beautiful and who just destroys the whole thing.

Obviously, the authorities twigged quickly that The Devil was not the Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE DEVIL (1972)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT (1971)

Trzecia Czesc Nocy

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Malgorzata Braunek, Leszek Teleszynski, Jan Nowicki, Jerzy Golinski, Anna Milewska, Jerzy Stuhr

PLOT: Set in occupied Poland during WWII, during a stay in the country, Michal watches helplessly as German soldiers murder his wife, Helena and son, Lukasz. Returning to the city, he involves himself with the Underground; during a meeting that goes wrong, another man is mistaken for him and shot and he ends up taking care of the man’s wife, Marta , who is a perfect double for his dead Helena.vlcsnap-2012-08-12-23h12m48s126

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Its mix of historical recreation and surreal scenes was eye-opening for audiences at the time, and even more so for Western viewers who may not be aware of the background of the film’s setting. Even at this early stage, most of Zulawski’s tropes are present, and will only become more refined and extreme in the films to follow.

COMMENTS: When film enthusiasts are introduced to Andrzej Zulawski, the go-to film is usually (surprise, surprise) Possession. For good reason: it’s in English, so no subtitle-reading is involved; and, for quite a while, it was the only Zulawski film that audiences in the West could obtain relatively easily. But if you mean to seriously study Zulawski’s work , then, in my opinion, The Third Part of the Night is a far better entry point.

Zulawski scholar Daniel Bird points out that the two films share similarities: they’re both dramas that take place against chaotic and apocalyptic backgrounds; both feature actresses who play double roles; and both feature a degree of Surrealism – and stairways. One could argue that the two films can be seen as two sides of the same coin.

On its own terms, The Third Part of the Night is an eye-opening merging of the Polish wartime experience that could be found in the films of Zulawki’s mentor Andrzej Wajda (who is credited as “Film Supervisor”) with the Surrealism that was beginning to be a mainstay of Eastern European films. Co-written with his father, Miroslaw Zulawski (a diplomat and novelist), the core of the film draws on Miroslaw’s wartime experiences as a “louse feeder” at The Weigl Institute, a facility that manufactured typhus vaccine. To a Western audience, the scenes of lice feeding may seem to be part of the surreal landscape, but to audiences in Poland, those scenes are more like historical recreation, along with the scenes of people being herded and taken away or just shot point blank in the streets. The Surrealism is rooted in Michel’s grief and guilt in losing his family, and replacing them.

tumblr_le90nmRZAJ1qzcur6The Third Part of the Night does not have a current Region 1 DVD release; it is listed in the ‘Future Releases’ section of Mondo Vision’s website. As of this writing, the best release is a disc from Second Run DVD in 2007. It’s Region 0, but a PAL disc, so those with all-region players should have no problem – in addition to an excellent transfer, there is a 20 minute interview in English with Zulawski going into some depth on the film, and an informative 16 page booklet written by Daniel Bird.

The story of the Weigl Institute is fascinating in its own right and worth further examination. In 2014, W.W. Norton & Co. published The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis, by Arthur Allen, which goes into the whole history and aftermath of the Institute. Both Zulawskis are referenced in the text, as is Third Part

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WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Everything stands on a knife-edge between absurdity and the abyss. Rarely has a filmmaker begin his career by so boldly charting out the territory he intends to explore.”–David Cairns, MUBI Notebook (DVD)

ANDRZEJ ZULAWSKI – A BRIEF INTRO

04ZULAWSKI1_SPAN-articleLargeIf you’re a regular reader of 366 Weird Movies, you know the name and you know the movie… the name is , and the movie is 1981’s Possession (controversially reviewed here earlier as a List Candidate). If you’re a dedicated cineaste, you might’ve found some of Zulawski’s other work, which wasn’t easy to find in the U.S. a decade or so ago.  Even with a recent retrospective of his films in L.A., N.Y.C. and several other North American cities, Zulawski remains largely a cult figure in the USA: neither of his novels, his book-length interview, nor any full-length analysis of his work are available in English at the current time.

Interest in Zulawski has increased steadily in the Oughts, however, mainly due to DVD. The home video company Mondo Vision has dedicated itself to quality releases of Zulawski’s movies for the North American market, and the dedicated film fan with an all-region player can look overseas to fill in the gaps. Even searching on YouTube can produce some useful results. And with post-production currently going on with Cosmos, Zulawski’s first feature in 15 years (since 2000’s Fidelity), we’ll likely see more interest in late 2015/early 2016, when the movie starts making festival rounds and/or general release.

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot more to Zulawski than just Possession.

Zulawski  grew up in Prague, Warsaw and Paris, and attended film school in France in the late 1950’s. He credits  for recommending him to director Andrzej Wajda as an assistant director on Wajda’s Samson (1961). He continued in that position throughout Wajda’s next few projects: the “Warsaw” segment of the 1962 anthology film L’ amour a Vingt Ans (Love at Twenty) (credited as 2nd Unit Director) and 1965’s Popiolu (The Ashes), and served in the same role for Anatole Litvak on The Night of the Generals (1966). His first directing efforts were two adaptations of short stories for Polish television, “Pavoncello” (1967) and “Piesn triumfujacej milosci” (“The Story of Triumphant Love,” 1969).

Andrzej Zulawski

LINKS:

andrzej-zulawski.com – a fan-site that’s in dire need of some updating; 2007 is the most recent year represented…

Facebook – probably the best place to find updated information on Zulawski; photos from the production of Cosmos have been posted

Mondo Vision – North American company producing R1 Zulawski home media

Instytut Ksiazki (Polish Book Institute) – excerpts in English from book length Zulawski interview by Piotr Kletowski & Piotr Marecki

Andrzej Korzynski – Composer for several Zulawski films; YouTube page featuring tracks.

The Unbelievable Genius of Andrzej Zulawski – the Cinefamily’s hosting of the first North American retrospective of Zulawski in 2013

Interview – with Zulawski and Daniel Bird at Fantasia 2013

LIST CANDIDATE: POSSESSION (1981)

Possession has been officially promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies of All Time. This post is left here for historical purposes. Please read the official Certified Weird entry.

AKA: The Night the Screaming Stops

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Margit Carstensen, Heinz Bennent, Johanna Hofer, Carl Duering, Shaun Lawton

PLOT: A secret agent finds himself in a real mess when he hires a detective to track his unfaithful wife.

Still from POSSESSION (1981)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: With campy acting, absurdist elements mixed with existentialist philosophy, arty cinematography, and a story full of all kinds of bizarre and wacky stuff like sex with sea creatures, pointless self mutilation, and people making funny faces for no apparent reason, Possession is practically tailor made to make the List. While I personally don’t think Possession represents a serious effort to convey meaning substantial enough to qualify for the List, I am confident that most viewers will strongly disagree with me.  Possession has a resolute feel about it that will be enough to convince most fans of weird movies that it is a meaningful and significantly weird cinematic endeavor.  Out of deference to those fans I hereby recommend it without reservation.

COMMENTS:  A love triangle among eccentric characters spirals out of control and becomes a love octagon. And the protagonist’s girlfriend is in love with some of kind of octopussy thing.

Sam Neil plays a spy who quits his job to spend more time with his girlfriend and out of wedlock son.  She leaves him, he has a nervous breakdown that leads to a three-week black-out, he meets the new boyfriend who is quite completely insane and possibly a little queer for Sam.

Sam dates his son’s teacher who appears to be his wife’s twin.  Meanwhile the wife leaves the new boyfriend for another boyfriend who is some kind of extraterrestrial octopus, to whom she feeds a succession of uninvited guests, such as a private detective and an insane window inspector (yes that’s right, an insane window inspector.)

In the midst of all of this, the characters physically and verbally convulse in spastic apoplexies Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: POSSESSION (1981)