Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion

Repulsion: London in the Flesh

Few films genuinely manage to unsettle you, but Roman Polanski’s ‘Repulsion’ is one of them. The director’s first feature to be made in English, IUTLINH recently had the pleasure to see the picture in its full glory at BFI Southbank.

The movie centres on Catherine Deneuve’s Belgian expat driven to insanity by anxiety and agoraphobia. Polanski creates his now signature claustrophobic environment, a key element of his Apartment Trilogy. Moreover, Deneuve’s ability to portray innocence without falling back on lame sexual clichés is striking and a testament to her abilities. No wonder she’s the French actress of international repute.

The story is layered. It’s not just a character study, but a study of society too. Themes on the inner workings of the mind and male-female gender relations are key to its progression.

But the true theme (and star) of the movie is London. The capital plays such an integral role that it’s by no mistake Polanski filmed here. London is a depressing, grey and gloomy place to reside. Its introspective and unwelcoming – yet for some reason attracts so many people. The fact that the main character is not a Londoner is something to consider.

Agoraphobia on the BridgeThe events in ‘Repulsion’ could not have taken place in any other city without losing its unique psychological edge. In New York, the reality of living in a dangerous and violent crime-ridden city (to a much greater extent then London) would overpower the descent Deneuve’s character experiences over the film. In the Big Apple, anyone would be given reason to be anxious of the outside world, at least during the 1960s.

The only cities that share London’s metropolitan buzz pose their own potential pitfalls in capturing the magical essence of ‘Repulsion’. Stockholm – whilst possessing the cold and sleek demeanour – is far too small and pleasant; Tokyo has far too dense a population that Denevue’s hysteria would be less striking. The same could be said of Hong Kong or Seoul. Back in Europe, only Paris provides a similar atmosphere to London by night. But this is only partial, as I’ve mentioned previously.

In my opinion, ‘Repulsion’ understands London. That may be a dim view, but it’s true.

Repulsion is available on DVD via Odeon Entertainment, packaged with a new interview with the director and audio commentary from both him and Deneuve. It is also widely available online – but you can find this for yourselves.