Possession (1981)

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Released 15-Feb-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Andrzej Zulawski (Director), In Conversation With Dan Bird
Theatrical Trailer-2
Trailer-Vampyros Lesbos, Road Games, Queen Margot,
Trailer-Last House On The Left
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1981
Running Time 123:46 (Case: 118)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Andrzej Zulawski
TFI International
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Isabelle Adjani
Sam Neill
Margit Carstensen
Heinz Bennent
Johanna Hofer
Carl Duering
Shaun Lawton
Michael Hogben
Maximilian Rüthlein
Thomas Frey
Leslie Malton
Gerd Neubert
Kerstin Wohlfahrt
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Andrzej Korzynski

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    On returning to Berlin from a mysterious assignment, Mark (Sam Neill) is distraught that his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) has grown cold towards him. However, her icy behaviour is only a preliminary transition between her increasing hatred of him and her own self-loathing.

    As Anna sinks into madness, her seemingly unfounded emotional cruelty towards Mark intensifies and leads him to retreat into a self-destructive world of anxiety and despair.

    In the midst of it all is their son Bob (Michael Hogben), who is not only being physically abused by his insane mother, but is torn between the affections bestowed upon him by the histrionic and sleazy Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), with whom Anna is having an affair, and his distant, agitated father.

    Spiraling further down into a vortex of bile and infidelity, Anna and Mark's relationship finally reaches a climax during a wince-inducing scene involving an electric carving knife. But we soon learn that Anna has discovered a way to channel her rancour by giving birth to and then copulating with a bizarre squid-like creature that appears to satisfy her emotional needs.

    Similar to the maternal body-horror narrative of David Cronenberg's The Brood (1979), director Andrzej Zulawaski taps into internalised feminine angst and proposes the possibility of an outward physical manifestation of it. But unlike Nola Carveth in The Brood, who breeds a litter of humanoid creatures that murderously protect her, Anna gives birth to exact replicas of herself and Mark to try and restore some semblance of harmony to her life. However, in trying to create this balance, Anna slides further into an absurd psychosexual wonderland and becomes the victim of her own selfish desires.

    Possession is a brilliant achievement. Zulawski extracts astonishing performances from Sam Neill, whose paternal struggle is all too achingly real, and Isabelle Adjani, whose maternal coldness and maiden-of-death intensity is perfectly matched to the chilly, weather-beaten Berlin backdrop. In a jaw-dropping sequence, Anna has a miscarriage in a murky subway station corridor. While blood and vile fluids stream out of every orifice, she screams and writhes around on the concrete floor with such ferocity that her agony is harrowing to watch.

    The monster, created by SFX Oscar winner Carlo Rambaldi, is seldom seen, but the first time the viewer is allowed to catch a glimpse of it, it's a startling revelation. It's a repulsively beautiful scene which shows the beast as a passive, sensual creature, undulating and lovingly wrapping its tentacles around a very much receptive Anna. The camera wisely doesn't linger, and cuts away just at the right moment to leave the viewer to reconcile what he or she had just witnessed.

    The cinematography is inherently voyeuristic. The camera is constantly on the move, prowling around corners then slowly caressing the characters with its invisible gaze. This technique is used to great effect as it gives the impression that an unseen entity is lurking and feeding on the highly-charged atmosphere. The camera often halts and then zooms in to provide the viewer with claustrophobic, lingering close-ups of the characters in anguish, such as the cruel sequence that occurs between Anna and a young ballet student.

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Transfer Quality


    Possession is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    For the most part this is a very good transfer. The print is generally quite sharp, with only a small amount of grain and softness creeping in now and again.

    Shadow detail clarity is generally penetrating, but images can become a little murky in the dull, natural light (24:46). Black levels are deep and clear, showing no signs of low level noise.

    Aliasing is only a minor concern, with the blinds (4:38) and hanging lights (5:02) during the mysterious business meeting, being obvious examples. There are only a few other scattered incidences of aliasing, such as when the camera follows Anna through the damp streets to her apartment building (43:28).

    The organic colour palette consisting mainly of soft greys, browns and greens is appropriately drab and perfectly suits the cold, harsh environment. Red, when it does appear, like on a parked car (43:07) and the blood flowing from a shocking sequence involving a broken wine bottle (48:43), is startling in contrast.

    During most of the film Anna and Mark's skin tones take on a suitably grey, deathlike quality, but towards the end their faces adopt a gorgeous, porcelain doll-like appearance.

    The lack of an English subtitle stream is unfortunate, as Adjani's thick French accent can at times be difficult to understand.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The only audio option is a fairly non-descript original Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s) mono mix.

    Possession is a film that relies heavily on the dramatic interplay between characters and visual cues. So, other than channeling the dialogue, setting the tone with the beautiful opening theme, and a handful of dramatic interludes to subtly enhance certain scenes, the speakers don't really have that much to spotlight.

    The copious, and often loud and angry dialogue comes through clearly without any hiss or distortion.

    Being a mono mix the surrounds and subwoofer are silent.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

    Over a static menu that sports the same image as the DVD cover, the plaintive strains of a piano are broken by the sounds of synthesised bombs dropping from planes – one of the film's many metaphors.

Audio Commentary with Director Andrzej Zulawski in discussion with biographer Dan Bird

    An articulate, intelligent Zulawski provides a fascinating analysis of his film. He's frank about what his intentions were and offers insight into parts of the story that appear vague or confusing.

    Dan Bird does a good job of keeping him focused and asking pertinent questions.

    The following two trailers are not time-coded so the timings are close approximations.

International Trailer (2:45) (1.66:1 & 16x9 enhanced)

    This excellent trailer promotes the spirit and feel of the film.

U.S. Theatrical Trailer (2:00) (1.66:1 and 16x9 enhanced)

    This downbeat trailer makes the film look like a cheap exploitation horror flick.

    The following trailers are all presented widescreen, but not in their correct aspect ratios:

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Our Region 4 Umbrella edition is a carbon copy of the Region 1 Anchor Bay Edition, which is only currently available as part of their DVD Drive-In double bill with Mario and Lamberto Bava's Shock. Like the Region 1 Anchor Bay release, our Region 4 is the fully extended, uncut and uncensored version of the film. It is also the version that director Andrzej Zulawskis prefers.

    If you're a fan of Eurocult cinema then the Anchor Bay double-bill is excellent value. However, if you just want the single disc with our very nice cover art, then the Region 4 is a good choice.


    Possession is a minor masterpiece of apocalyptic cinema. It is also a challenging film and will take more than one viewing to fully appreciate its compelling narrative and surreal plot contrivances.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Robert Winter (read my dead sexy bio)
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDYamaha DVR-S200 (it came free with the plasma), using S-Video output
DisplayYamaha 106cm Plasma. Calibrated with Sound & Home Theater Tune Up. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt into amplifier. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
Amplificationget a marshall stack, and crank it up.
Speakers2 x Bose Speakers and 4 NX-S200 Yamaha mini-speakers.

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Love it or Hate it Film!! - Anonymous
Re: love it or hate it film.... - wolfgirv
Uncut at last - Dan