By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: She loses her mind.
Love or loathe him one thing is for sure the controversial Roman Polanski has made some great movies and since today marks his 80th birthday I thought it would be good to review one of his films this being his first English language one. The story, which was written by Polanski and Gerard Brach centers on Carol (Catherine Deneuve) a beautiful but lonely young woman living in an apartment with her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) and Helen’s boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry). Carol seems detached and troubled and when Helen and Michael go off for the weekend Carol begins to suffer hallucinations while inside the apartment that becomes increasingly more frightening and eventually leads to murder.
The film works at a slow and deliberate pace that some viewers may feel put-off by. Personally I felt it was effective and made it more realistic although things really don’t start to get intense until the final hour. For me it was the little things that made it intriguing for instance the way Carol becomes fascinated with the distorted reflection of herself in a teapot, or a rolling bottle of nail polish. Nothing is over-the-top, but instead subtle and restrained. This is one of the few films that seem to understand the thought process of the mentally ill and makes you feel like you are really inside their head and seeing things as they do, which is what makes it so unnerving. The low-key approach works because like with an actual person having a breakdown it starts with little things that slowly morph into bigger ones.
Polanski shows incredible control over the material. The stark black-and-white cinematography helps to heighten the ugliness of the situation. The variety of camera angles and movements creates an almost hypnotic effect. I loved the way, as Carol gets further into her demented state, that the dimensions of the apartment begins to change, or the hands coming out of the walls. My only complaint is I wished some of these effects had been played up even more. The rape sequences are quite effective and surprisingly explicit for its time period. Yet instead of hearing Carol’s screams during these moments we instead hear the ticking of a clock, which somehow makes it even more disturbing.
Deneuve gives one of her best performances and she was at the peak of youthful beauty here. The blank almost zombie-like look in her eyes is penetrating. You get the feeling that she not only truly understands the madness of her character, but actually is the character. Patrick Wymark is also memorable as the landlord who goes from being bombastic and demanding to kind and cuddling and eventually sexually deviant in a matter of only 10 minutes.
Normally I always like a background to the characters and when they are missing or vague I find it a weakness to the script while here it is strangely a strength. We can surmise that she was most likely abused sexually when she was younger, but the who, when, and why is never made clear. This though somehow makes the character and the situation more compelling and reflects back to how psychologically fragile the human condition can be and how these things can happen to anyone. The final tracking shot, which stops on a picture of Carol as a child showing an angry look on her face is great.
The imagery and psychological approach to this thing is still one-of-a-kind. The movie viewing experience on this one remains potent and aptly deserves its classic status.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: October 2, 1965
Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes
Director: Roman Polanski
Studio: Compton Films
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video