If you like your films dark, twisted and arty then 1981’s Possession might be just the ticket. Set in the former West Berlin, this once controversial arthouse thriller stars Aussie actor Sam Neill as a government agent called Mark and Isabelle Adjani (who would win both a César and a Cannes award for her role) as his adulterous wife Anna. Theirs is a marriage in total meltdown.
When Anna’s affair with the charismatic Heinrich comes to light, Anna goes into hiding, leaving Mark to look after their young son, Bobby. Alone with her guilt and self-loathing, Anna miscarries – an event that tips her over the edge into madness, resulting in self-mutilation, violent outbursts of rage and murder.
This is not an easy film to watch, but Adjani and Neil’s performances are mesmerising. Rich in metaphors, surrealist poetics and excessive symbolism, Possession has a trippy, dream-like incoherence that breaks all the rules about narrative structure. And this is all down to the director, Andrzej Żuławski who seems to be channelling his own psychological journey (over his own marital breakdown) into celluloid – making this more a visionary nightmare than a horror movie per se.
Though it does have elements of horror – especially the monstrous creature lurking in the shadows of Anna’s mind (courtesy of sfx legend Carlo Rambaldi) – the surreal inclusion of doppelgangers (Mark starts dating a teacher who looks just like Anna, while Anna’s creature becomes a clone of Mark); Kafkaesque spy intrigue (Mark is being hounded to move up in the spy agency); and the occult (Heinrich is portrayed as a black magician) makes it reminiscent of the works of Luis Buñuel and Alejandro Jodorowsky. As such, Possession is a living example of film as art.
Bewildering, hysterical and highly esoteric, this is one film you will not forget. Just don’t watch this with someone you are about to break up with, and please don’t ask me to explain the final apocalyptic scene.