When Marriage Sours, EVIL From Within Manifests. “Possession” reviewed (Umbrella Entertainment / Blu-ray)

After his return from a lengthy time abroad, Mark finds himself in a contentious and spiteful relationship with his skittish wife Anna unveils her infidelity.  Unable to pry any kind of information from her before her sudden disappearance, Mark results to all the stages of grief and heartache:  denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.   Anna comes-and-goes from Mark and their son’s life, but their spats continue, increasing in anger and violence which each encounter.  Mark hires private investigators to track down Anna’s whereabouts.  He evens confronts her flamboyant and Zen-mastering lover.  But when Mark comes face-to-face with Anna’s sinister secret, a sub rosa affair unlike anything Mark has ever seen, he will go to unimaginable lengths to protect the wife he obsessively loves. 

Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession” spans over a number of parallels that, in abstract theory, reflect social political matters of a post-war, Berlin wall divided Germany and the personal matters of Zulawski as a mirror of his ugly and bitter divorce from actress Malgorzata Braunek.  The 1981, Berlin shot, inimitable horror is a speeding melodramatic bullet train racing down a tracklayer of surreal rails and planks, ripping toward destruction with two turbulent people who about to slam, engine first, into an unforeseen mountain façade of towering despondency. That unforeseen mountain takes form from the tug-a-war of within, materializing duplicity, in every sense of the word, unnaturally. Frederic Tuten cowrote the emotionally florid and easily post-grad thesis dissecting film with Zulawski that was French mounted by Gaumont Film Company under producer Marie-Laure Reyre. Two other French companies, Oliane Productions and Soma Films, co-produced.

Watching Mark (“Jurassic Park” and “Event Horizon’s” Sam Neill), and Anna (“The Tenant” and “Diabolique’s” Isabelle Adjani) go at each other’s throat in a vicious cycle of matrimony madness can be in itself, maddening. Neill and Adjani radiate such loathing and desperation that’s seeing the two interact could possibly ignite World War III right there in the heart of Germany. What makes the contentious and hyperventilating scenes more interesting and alluring are the actors’ stage-like, full of hyperbolic melodrama, performances that somehow don’t quite register as the feisty interactions playout in what can only be concluded being pinpoint precision. Even Heinrich (“A Young Emmanuelle’s” Heinz Bennent”) is blatantly over-the-top with erratically wild movements of his body during scenes of emotional and physical struggle. Zulawski and “Possession” embraces the international cast with individual methodology on acting from Britain, France, Germany, and with even Zulawski who’s Polish and though you know the film is set in a divided Berlin between East and West Germany, there’s never this sense that “Possession” is strictly locked down to be anything but German. Aside from the Berlin Wall and some signage, maybe even the architecture, the multinational cast thins out the inklings of thinking, “oh yeah, this is filed in Germany!” “Possession” cast concludes with Margit Carstensen, Shaun Lawton, Johanna Hofner, Michael Hogben and Carl Duering.

Being that this was my second sit down with Andrzej Zulaski’s “Possession,” the first being Second Sight Films’ DVD release over 10 years ago, you begin to fathom the pattern of surrealism Zulaski aims to bombard viewers with through incessant bickering and an unspoken love-and-hate undertone. The doppelganger theory that’s attached itself to “Possession” from over the years warrants merit because those in a relationship on the precipice of implosion always wish the other person to be a better version of themselves, of who they want them to be, or of who they fell in love with in the first place. One can’t go deep into the doppelganger theory without totally exposing all of “Possession’s” secrets, surreal or not, and that infestation of preference takes shape for Zulaski as, ironically enough, a shapeless creature. The desire is tremendously powerful for Anna she can’t avoid being away from it for long stretches of a time, popping in to her and Mark’s old apartment for just enough time to have Mark stir the pot with his own manifested infernal creature, himself. Anna, an extremely passive woman, rarely confronts Mark about her infidelity and is always Mark who has to extract that information with every tooth and nail. “Possession” will forever be hailed a film that can analyzed over and over again without ever finding a concrete interpretation and, you know what, we can live with that.

As I said, last time “Possession” was visited by these aging eyes was over a decade ago on a UK DVD. Now, I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with a new Blu-ray release from Australia. Umbrella Entertainment, in conjunction with The Film Institute (TFI) Films Production, releases a single disc, full 1080p Blu-ray, registered as their volume #11 on the spine, as part of the banner’s Beyond Genres collection. Presented in European widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio, this “Possession” release has a giant leap of negative exposure in comparison to Second Sight’s DVD, retreating away from a more natural and textural palpable transfer, full of detail and good amount of grain, to a blue-tinged headscratcher with a higher contrast that renders details and shadows nearly wiped out. The transfer is also conveyed with slight damage seen in approx. minute 14 with a vertical scratch and some image destabilization that makes discernability dematerialize right before your eyes near minute 44 and 57. The English language DTS-HD 2.0 master audio renders better with cleaner tracks seeing little-to-none hissing or static. The dialogue’s apparent and unobstructed thought slightly isolating without much depth. Despite some limited capacity with the dual channels, “Possession’s” more adrenalized scenes/ranges – i.e., speeding car flip, shoot outs, apartment explosion – sound effective and robust. Special features include an archival audio commentary with director Andrzej Zulawski and co-writer Frederic Tuten, an archival interview with the late Zulawski The Other Side of the Wall: The Making of Possession from 2011, a U.S. Cut of the film with a following featurette Repossessed, a location featurette A Divided City, the musical compositions in an interview with composer Andrej Korzynski The Sounds of Possession, an interview with producer Christian Ferry Our Friend in the West, a poster analysis, and the international and U.S. theatrical trailer. What’s presented by Umbrella is the fully uncut 123-minute version in a region B-code format though, weirdly enough, rated 18. Another weird note about the release is the back cover credits are displayed in French on the cardboard slipcover housing the reversible DVD artwork featuring a new illustrated snapcase cover art by Simon Sherry. I’m a clear fan of “Possession’s” clear ambiguity despite being not sure positive about the new Blu-ray release. Zulawski’s tale of corrosive dissolving of wedlock definitely fits the Beyond Genres banner and is a fine edition to Umbrella’s celebratory bank of classic horror.


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