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.

Kate Nash – ‘Rap for Rejection’

“I’m a stupid whore and a frigid bitch / Will you make up your mind and tell me which is which”. No, I Used To Live In Notting Hill hasn’t been off its meds again, but it has been listening to the new Kate Nash album, and in particular the intriguing track “Rap for Rejection.”

The Kate Nash reinvention takes place right before our eyes on this track, which mixes grunge beats over Nash’s quirky voice. But of course, the history of pop stars going a bit rap ain’t pretty – anyone remember Robbie Williams’ “Rudebox”? Pleasingly this is far from a commercial exploit towards the genre of the moment (which if you’ve heard the radio recently, you would know is a watered-down eurotrashy type ‘R&B’). Actually, the track is an explicit rejection of commercialisation. It’s a rejection of almost everything, hence the name.

“Female castration / Go live demonstration! / Domestic violence, racist, homophobic / No time for the whole list.” It’s importance is underlined by these lyrics. Why do you have to be a bra-burning lesbian to be a feminist? Are they the only ones who can oppose female genital mutilation in the Middle East; bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan; or modern-day sexual slavery across Europe?

The song sounds like one of those that define a certain moment in time. Think of the songs that came to the fore amidst the collapse of the Soviet Union: Vladimir Vysotskii’s “Navodchitsa”; Boris Grebenshchikov’s “25 to 10”; Akvarium’s “A Generation of Janitors and Night-Watchmen.” All of them influenced youth culture at the time. It went against the official standard of what ‘music’ was. “Rap for Rejection” does all of this. But it will never be remembered in this way. Firstly because its Kate Nash, and secondly because feminism is hardly on top form, something I’ll be exploring later this week.

The song yields from Nash’s 2013 LP Girl Talk, her first independent release that further moves towards riot grrl territory without totally giving up on the jaunty indie pop of “Foundations” and Made of Bricks. She is currently on a worldwide tour and plays in London on 11th May at The Barfly.

Sophie Hunger – ‘Souldier’

Swiss crossover artist Sophie Hunger premiered the video for her new track ‘Souldier’ last week. Produced by La Blogothèque and directed by Jeremiah, the clip begins on the streets of Notting Hill Gate, following on from her appearance in ‘LikeLikeLike’, which you can see here: vimeo.com/52904908.

The video is notable for its not-too-rosy comparison of London with Paris – the setting for ‘LikeLikeLike’. The French capital is seen through perky summer-tinted glasses, whereas London must settle for a sincere, atmospheric and moody portrayal. Yet the clips respectively get the two cities spot on. London is far from being understood as breezy and free; the city is glum, grey and gloomy. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to live – it just puts Londoners day-to-day life into perspective with those of our neighbours on the continent. Are we too anonymous and uptight for our own good?

Both of the tracks yield from Hunger’s 2012 set ‘The Danger of Light’, an eclectic mix of blues, folk and sophisticated pop. She plays in London on 29th May at The Garage Islington. I Used To Live In Notting Hill for one will be present.