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Ten Word or Less Review: Strong final act, but two really boring ones before it.

“Repulsion” is the kind of black and white, foreign made, independently minded movie that gives such creations a bad reputation amongst the masses of unwashed film goers.  If ever an example needed to be pointed at as to why art house and foreign films can be such a relentless pain in the ass, one need look no further than Roman Polanski’s 1965 ‘classic.’  Anemically plotted and excruciatingly tedious for half it’s run time, “Repulsion” eventually builds up momentum, a sense of dread and the slimmest of purposes to justify its existence.  But so many mundane trappings have to be slogged through that the rewards don’t justify the effort it requires.  To flower up the plot some, “Repulsion” is about the fragile mind of a young and beautiful woman who slowly loses her grip on reality, ultimately finding herself lost in murder and insanity.  In more curt terms, it’s about a boring chick who goes nuts.

A young and stunning Catherine Deneuve plays Carol, a spa employee who seems to have lost her personality somewhere in her handbag.  Behind her pretty but vacuous eyes, Carol is a deeply troubled paranoid schizophrenic who’s teetering on the edge of madness.  This madness initially only manifest itself as fretting over trivialities and endless scenes of Deneuve starring off into space, ignoring everyone around her.  Men seek her company, her co-workers try to engage her, but more often than not she wonders around in an endless stupor, gazing at nothing endlessly.  If Polanski wanted us to illicit some kind of sympathy, or any feeling at all for Carol, he would’ve been wise to instill some kind of personality into his lead.  He believes that Deneuve’s beauty is enough to hook us.  He uses her classical look as a substitute for anything resembling real human emotion.  There’s a lack of anything remotely intriguing going on outside Carol’s head makes “Repulsion” unbearable for far too long.  Maybe Polanski was trying to say that the beautiful can be insane for far longer than the regular folk out there. We ignore their troubled nature because we’re preoccupied by their looks.  Maybe so, but the idea doesn’t make for compelling drama in and of itself.  As Carol is never defined beyond her good looks and blankness, her character remains a non-entity one is left to grasp at empathy for that isn’t there.  If Carol ever once felt like a real person slipping away to something horrible she can’t control, then “Repulsion” would be a much stronger experience.

It’s a creepy final act where Polanski finally earns back some points.  After all the paint drying drama unwraps for nearly an hour of “Repulsion’s” runtime, Carol’s sister leaves her for the week with her beau, and no sooner is she out the door than Carol slowly snaps to pieces in her isolation, finally bringing the film around from its until then languid nature.  The walls literally crack around Carol.  She suffers from nightmares of a terrifying rapist who creeps into her room at night to violate her.  Hands reach out from the walls for her.  As her madness latches on and won’t let go, she becomes homicidal, killing the men who only see her beauty and not the dangerous depravity pushing her off the edge.  His sudden instilling of menace and dread make “Repulsion” crack and snap in all the ways it previously lacked.  But it’s not enough to salvage the experience.

There are scores of professional film critics who adore anything Polanski makes and specifically they love “Repulsion” without waiver, but I stand in opposition to them.  His decision to prolong an extremely tepid opening act in combination with his failure to make his central character anything but a passive vessel of crazy cripple the film in a way from which it never recovered for this viewer.  Lovers of art house cinema will no doubt go on loving “Repulsion” as they frequently have for the past 45 years, but this viewer found the experience riddled with tedium and only minor awards for all the waiting around.


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