Possession review (DVD)

Mark Kermode has hailed Possession as “An unsung masterpiece … the film that prefigures everything that's in [Lars von Trier's] Antichrist”. Now, it's not often that I agree with the words of Kermode – I don't regard The Exorcist as the greatest film ever made, for instance – but on the subject of this unusual film from 1981, he is absolutely correct.

Shot on location in Berlin, Polish film-maker Andrzej Zulawski's Possession is a highly controversial film that was banned and placed on the Video Nasties list in the UK, where it remained unseen until 1999. Now it has arrived on DVD for the very first time in Blighty, and it's a film so intense that you'll even find your DVD player sweating from the word go.

This piece of surrealist, emotively-powerful film-making is centred on a man (Neill) who joins his wife Anna (Adjani) and their young son at home in the German capital. He returns to immediately find her leaving him for another man. While this is indeed the case, she is also having an affair with a third lover, and her affection for that someone greatly outweighs what she feels for both the father of her child and her original bit on the side. But wait, I did refer to the third lover as “someone”, didn't I? Perhaps it's actually 'something'. Something mysterious, bizarre, slimy, disgusting, and worth killing for.

Possession is two hours of pure cinematic bliss that takes you on an incredibly poignant journey of love, hatred, pain, tragedy and self-mutilation. Neill and Adjani absolutely tear it up, constantly embroiled in the bitterest of arguments and violence. Their performances, especially Neill's, may seem like overacting, but they're in fact playing the roles down to a tee, almost in a theatrical fashion. Their characters are maddened souls and two of the most intensely engaging that I can quite honestly say I have ever seen.

The film sways almost in three equal parts, from drama to horror to action movie, and never once misses a beat. It's engrossing, compelling and extremely disturbing, but also an utterly brilliant arthouse picture. When you discover just what Anna's other lover is, it will shock you to the core and reel you even deeper into the chaotic, murderous and metaphorical story of personal and psychological destruction.

EXTRAS  ??? The Other Side of the Wall: The Making of Possession; an interview with writer/director Andrzej Zulawski; and a photo gallery.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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