France/West Germany 1981, 124 mins
Director: Andrzej Zulawski

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away some of the plot.

Part divorce drama, part creature feature, part Cold War thriller, Possession is one of the most unsettling films of all time. With his marriage on the brink of collapse, Mark (Neill) tries desperately to cling on to his wife Anna (Adjani) as she indulges in her affairs with men… and other beings. Adjani’s commitment to her performance pushed her to her limits, and she is as magnetic as it is unhinged in the role of a woman on the verge of a cosmic breakdown.
Anna Bogutskaya,

Anyone who’s heard of Andrzej Zulawski will probably recall him as the Polish director who made Possession, in which Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani screamed at one another for two hours. Sadly Possession is the only Zulawski film to have had substantial distribution in Britain (even enjoying a brief moment of notoriety as an early ‘video nasty’) – though the 11 features the director has turned out in a quarter of a century have all displayed an invigorating camera style, a boldly emotional approach to acting and a challenging set of concerns and obsessions that make him without question an auteur. Love him or loathe him, Zulawski makes exciting, indelible cinema that cries out for wider critical examination.

Consider Possession for a start. Set in a divided Berlin, the film begins with Marc (Neill) returning home to his wife (Adjani) to find their relationship crumbling for reasons neither can articulate. Marc holes up in a hotel room and spirals into mental decline, so what ensues could arguably be seen as the distorted viewpoint of a man in deep psychosis. Gradually Marc establishes that Anna has a lover, Heinrich (extravagantly incarnated by Heinz Bennent), whose trendy Eastern mysticism and bisexual posturing leads the offended husband to ridicule him at every opportunity. But Anna evidently has another lover, and Marc sets a private detective agency on her trail. Following her to a bare apartment just by the Wall, the detective finds her in the company of a dark, slimy tentacular creature (it is revealed to us four times in the film, on each occasion assuming a more human form). This leap into the fantastic is prepared for by the pervasive air of dementia already surrounding the characters, especially Anna, who is prone to violent outbursts and uncontrollable fits. Rarely has the porcelain beauty of Adjani been turned to better effect, as her demeanour shifts constantly from angelic purity to demonic intensity.

With Anna away from home, Marc takes their son Bob to school and encounters a gentle teacher, Helen, whom he gradually accepts into the house. She is also played in the film by Adjani – so Anna’s splintering personality is directly manifested by Helen ‘acting’ as the caring mother Anna once was. The Anna whom Marc still desires repeatedly describes her own feelings of disassociation. She has found an implacable dark side in herself, disturbingly manifested in a 16mm movie made by Heinrich that Marc watches, in which she tortures a young ballerina in class to sustain a painful position until the girl runs off screaming. This remarkable sequence is only just topped by Possession’s most notorious scene, in which a truly ‘possessed’ Anna has a fit in the subway, flies into a ferocious dance of death and, oozing bodily fluids from every orifice, miscarries something glutinous that is left undefined. This for me exceeds anything thrown up by The Exorcist for sheer impact on the nervous system.

Zulawski pushes the narrative into even wilder territory in the final scenes, in which Marc becomes a fugitive from the cops investigating the trail of deaths related to Anna’s creature. After a chase, he lies bleeding on a staircase and is unexpectedly approached by Anna, who announces that the creature is now ‘finished’, revealing it to be a perfect replica of Marc. While the ‘real’ Anna and Marc die in the ensuing police fusillade, the new Marc makes his escape to turn up at the family home to confront Helen. Bob repeatedly screams ‘Don’t open the door’ and runs into the bathroom to drown himself in the tub. While white light invades the apartment to the sound of a war starting up (sirens, bombs, gunfire), Helen stares at us in a trance, with the figure of Marc (or Marc 2, if you like) pressed against the glass door.

Zulawski’s stated aim was to take the stuff of soap opera and push it up a few notches, and for a spectator prepared to make that journey, the power of his direction lies in his conviction that cinema occupies an imaginative space in which energy and emotion at full throttle will make you believe. Possession is a film about the desire for married partners to possess each other, to know each other, and how that desire taken to neurotic extremes results in the unleashing of a suppressed, demonic side. The city in which the film is set is a deserted one, appropriate to the mental state of characters oblivious to anyone with whom they have no direct emotional involvement. It falls into place that they should then see doubles everywhere, reflections in others of what has become an obsessive quest. But in manifesting the hidden recesses of the imagination, a future chaos may result, beyond our worst nightmares.
David Thompson, Sight and Sound, October 1998

Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Production Companies: Oliane Productions, Marianne Productions, Soma Film Produktion
Producer: Marie-Laure Reyre
Production Manager: Jean-José Richer
Germany Production Manager: Klaus-Michael Kuehn
Unit Managers: Harald Muchametov, Axel Behr, Jurgen Schmidt, Knut Winkler
Screenplay: Andrzej Zulawski
Adaptation and Dialogue: Andrzej Zulawski, Frédéric Tuten
Director of Photography: Bruno Nuytten
Camera Operator: Andrzej Jaroszewicz
Special Effects: Daniel Braunschweig, Charles-Henri Assola
Creature Special Effects: Carlo Rambaldi
Editors: Marie-Sophie Dubus, Suzanne Lang-Willar
Art Director: Holger Gross
Costumes: Ingrid Zoré
Wardrobes: Barbara Lutz, Helmut Preuss
Make-up: Ronaldo de Abreu, Laurence Azouvy
Music: Andrzej Korzynski
Sound Recording: Karl-Heinz Laabs, Norman Engel
Sound Re-recording: Jacques Maumont
Stunts: Herbert Wiczorek, Willy Neuner, Dragomir Stanojevic, Radevic Miorier

Isabelle Adjani (Anna/Helen)
Sam Neill (Marc)
Margit Carstensen (Margie)
Heinz Bennent (Heinrich)
Johanna Hofer (mother)
Shaun Lawton (Zimmerman)
Michael Hogben (Bob)
Carl Duering (detective)
Maximilian Ruethlein (man with pink socks)
Thomas Frey (pink socks’ acolyte)
Leslie Malton (Sara, woman with club foot)
Gerd Neubert (subway drunk)
Kerstin Wohlfahrt
Ilse Bahrs
Karin Mumm
Herbert Chwoika
Barbara Stanek
Ilse Trautschold

France/West Germany 1981
124 mins

Nosferatu (Nosferatu – Eine Symphonie des Grauens)
Mon 17 Oct 20:50; Sun 13 Nov 15:50 (+ intro by Silent Film Curator Bryony Dixon); Sat 19 Nov 14:10
Tue 18 Oct 20:50; Fri 28 Oct 18:20; Tue 8 Nov 18:20; Sun 27 Nov 13:00
The Skeleton Key
Wed 19 Oct 18:00; Mon 14 Nov 20:45
Meet the Monsters: A Season Introduction
Thu 20 Oct 19:30 BFI YouTube
I Walked With a Zombie
Thu 20 Oct 20:40; Tue 1 Nov 18:10
Creature from the Black Lagoon (3D)
Sat 22 Oct 18:15 (+ pre-recorded intro by Mallory O’Meara, award winning and bestselling author of ‘The Lady from the Black Lagoon’); Sat 29 Oct 11:40; Tue 1 Nov 20:50
In Dreams Are Monsters Quiz
Sun 23 Oct 19:00-22:00 Blue Room
Kuroneko (Yabu no naka no kuroneko)
Tue 25 Oct 20:45; Mon 31 Oct 21:00; Fri 18 Nov 18:15
The Fly
Wed 26 Oct 21:00
La Llorona
Thu 27 Oct 20:30; Mon 7 Nov 21:00
Celluloid Screams and Live Cinema UK presents: Ghostwatch + Q&A
Fri 28 Oct 20:20
Fri 28 Oct 20:45; Tue 8 Nov 20:50
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Sat 29 Oct 18:30; Wed 30 Nov 20:50
Sat 29 Oct 20:45; Thu 17 Nov 20:50 (+ intro)
Nightbreed – Director’s Cut
Sun 30 Oct 15:10 (+ intro); Sat 12 Nov 20:35
28 Days Later
Mon 31 Oct 18:00 (+ Q&A with director Danny Boyle); Sat 26 Nov 20:45
Tue 1 Nov 20:40; Sat 19 Nov 15:10; Tue 29 Nov 20:40
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Wed 2 Nov 18:10; Sat 26 Nov 20:40
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Wed 2 Nov 20:45; Sat 19 Nov 20:45
Thu 3 Nov 20:55; Sat 26 Nov 13:00
Fri 4 Nov 18:30; Sat 19 Nov 12:10; Sun 20 Nov 18:30
Fright Night
Fri 4 Nov 20:50; Tue 22 Nov 20:40 (+ intro)
Sat 5 Nov 20:20 (+ intro by author Kier-La Janisse); Sun 27 Nov 15:30
Ganja & Hess
Mon 7 Nov 18:00; Sat 26 Nov 15:20
Wed 9 Nov 20:40; Sat 26 Nov 18:20
The Entity
Fri 11 Nov 17:55; Tue 15 Nov 20:30
Def by Temptation
Wed 16 Nov 18:10 (+ intro); Sat 26 Nov 18:10
Jennifer’s Body
Sun 20 Nov 15:15; Mon 21 Nov 18:00; Fri 25 Nov 20:45
Mon 21 Nov 20:30; Sun 27 Nov 12:20
Under the Shadow
Wed 23 Nov 20:40; Tue 29 Nov 18:10
Ouija: Origin of Evil
Thu 24 Nov 20:40; Mon 28 Nov 18:10
Pet Sematary
Fri 25 Nov 18:15; Mon 28 Nov 20:40
Good Manners (As Boas Maneiras)
Sun 27 Nov 18:10; Wed 30 Nov 20:25

City Lit at BFI: Screen Horrors – Screen Monsters
Thu 20 Oct – Thu 15 Dec 18:30-20:30
Beyond Nollywood World Premiere: Inside Life + Q&A with director Clarence A Peters
Sat 29 Oct 14:00
Matchbox Cine presents House of Psychotic Women
Sat 5 Nov 17:50
Son of Ingagi + Panel Discussion
Wed 9 Nov 18:10
Live Commentary with Evolution of Horror, Brain Rot and The Final Girls
Sat 19 Nov 18:00
Big Monster Energy
Tue 22 Nov 18:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
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