“Out-there, surreal, overwrought, hysterical and Kafkaesque... an astounding, jaw-dropping feat of furious beauty” — Staci Layne Wilson, SCI-FI WEEKLY
POSSESSION begins with the homecoming of Marc (Sam Neill) after an extended business trip to find that his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) has a lover and that she has been neglecting their young son, Bob. But Anna’s extracurricular love life doesn’t just include the weird, mystic Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), but an actual physical monstrosity that she keeps hidden away in a secret apartment across town after birthing it in the film’s notorious “impossible moment” — otherwise known as “the subway scene”. In this jaw-dropping and audience-dividing sequence, she laughs, screams, howls, contorts, regurgitates, flails, flops and falls in unapologetic emotional excess. But despite her incessant screaming and muddled exposition, Anna remains unable to communicate or connect.
POSSESSION is a film that confounded critics worldwide upon its release. While celebrated at Cannes and the French Cesars, it was reviled in the U.S. as a result of sloppy re-editing aimed at making the film more linear and ‘accessible’, and has only enjoyed serious reappraisal stateside in the last decade due to the belated release of the director’s cut on DVD, and via the first-ever North American theatrical retrospective of Zulawski’s films in 2012.
Heavily inspired by the real-life break-up of Zulawski and his then-wife Malgorzata Braunek (as well as owing a significant debt to his first wife, artist Barbara Baranowska, upon whom the character of Anna is largely based), POSSESSION takes place in a strange hybrid of private and public reality that in a sense seems fitting for a couple undergoing a major transformation such as a break-up. Everything is exaggerated, everything is obscene, every action is hostile and tactless. In real life, any couple will only let you see what they want you to see, but for Marc and Anna their break-up becomes an apocalyptic spectacle. A logistically and emotionally overwhelming film bolstered by saturated colours, a forboding score by frequent Zulawski collaborator Andrzej Korzynski and the swirling, disorienting cinematography of Bruno Nuytten, POSSESSION remains one of the most flawless examples of a woman losing her mind onscreen.
— Kier-La Janisse