The hydragogic high point of Andrzej Zulawski's 1981 movie, "Possession," an all-anxiety sci-fi/horror exploration of a relationship ripped apart, is the scene where a cackling Isabelle Adjani explodes in seizure, spewing blood and bile and other liquids—conflating miscarriage, menstruation, diarrhea, and birth—all over a Berlin subway. It is one of the most fully present performances ever, often plucked from the movie by film buffs and posted to YouTube without context like a three-minute reaction GIF to the never ending terribleness of the world.
Adjani plays Anna, a wife and mom held back by the inevitably repressive qualities of marriage (personal is political here and Anna's repression is then mirrored by global tyranny; the movie is set in divided Berlin) and haunted by the subsequent shame for transgressing after she demands divorce, has an affair (with a man and then, later on, a Lovecraftian octopus-ish creature), and abandons her child. Her husband Mark (Sam Neill) is also a monster, though not of the tentacled variety, just equal parts tyrant and baby man, whose job (something or other tied to espionage) takes him out of town a whole lot, which begins to explain why Anna might look to others for affection or even just an especially gnarly, intergalactic fuck.
From there, a constellation of chaos, self-mutilation, and murder that weaves method-style realism around histrionic camerawork, jacked-up performances, and bursts of surrealism. "Possession" doesn't just dazzle, it decimates narrative and logic to cut to the feeling. Critic J. Hoberman called the movie "at once a dread-inducing ordeal, a bloody arabesque and a swooning celebration of Adjani's long, cloaked form in perpetual motion," while Kier-La Janisse, author of the game-changing feminist horror exegesis/memoir "House Of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films," cites the movie as essentially where the work for her book began. "There was something terrible in that film, a desperation I recognized in myself, in my inability to communicate effectively," Janisse writes. "And the frustration that would lead to despair, anger, and hysteria."
And then there's Parkway programmer and film meme Twitter hero Eric Allen Hatch, who adores this movie and once tweeted "cuck your husband with a glorious fuck-monster whose arrival portends the metamorphosis of humanity into a superior new form in da club like . . ." along with still of a maniacally grinning Adjani. Hatch's grim, funny summary of the movie is on point and a reminder that there are ways in which "Possession" is a comedy some of the time.
Also consider "Possession" in part proto-Lars von Trier nonsense—mostly female suffering most of the time—especially in the ways we witness Anna's, and therefore Adjani's, exposed suffering so often. But the movie is fueled by Adjani's fearless sensitivity with director Zulawski and his obsequious need to present everything intensely following her lead (Zulawski's direction to Adjani for the subway scene: "Fuck the air"). It makes "Possession" unteachable, uncategorizable: a sci-fi, horror, domestic drama that's like an unhinged hybrid of "A Woman Under The Influence," "The Thing," and Rihanna's 'Bitch Better Have My Money' music video.
"Possession," directed by Andrzej Zulawski, screens at the Parkway Theatre on Oct. 19, 20, and 21 at 11:30 p.m.