Mark (Sam Neill) is a worker in the secret service living in Berlin with his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) and young son, and their marriage is suffering a crisis. Mark decides to leave, and never see their son again, but he is so struck with guilt that a nervous breakdown is the result. He returns home to find his son is being neglected by the increasingly erratic Anna, who is having an affair with Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) a self-help guru. But Mark suspects another relationship after he visits Heinrich and is humilatingly beaten up by him, and Anna is indeed seeing someone else... or something else...
As with David Cronenberg's The Brood, Possession was written by Andrzej Zulawski in the wake of a breakup in his marriage, but unlike The Brood, this film is obscure in its meaning and frequently baffling in its storyline. It was banned in Britain as one of the "Video Nasties" of the 1980s (this is the "Octopus Sex" one), but was a hit in France, and won awards in Europe. Isabelle Adjani wasn't quite so keen, however: she was very critical of the film and reportedly attempted suicide after seeing the finished product.
What would be a straightforward tale of a marriage disintegrating despite the love the husband and wife have for each other, is transformed into a nightmare of murder, monsters and madness. It's as if the pain they are inflicting on each other becomes so overwhelming that it spills over into the lives of everyone around them, not only putting the bystanders through emotional anguish, but threatening their lives as well. Throw in religious imagery and impenetrable philosophising ("For me God is a disease,") and you have a film that is truly one of a kind.
Anna's encounters with Mark always turn into screaming matches, with crockery flying and even punches, too. But Anna has a doppelganger, Helen, the teacher of her son, who Mark begins an affair with - or are they same person? Is Helen the pure equivalent of the wicked, insane Anna? Anna, you see, has somehow conjured up a lover; we see a startling miscarriage scene in flashback which seems to have triggered this entity, which begins as a slimy shape in the bathroom of Anna's new apartment and, the more she enjoys sex with it, the more it takes human form. With tentacles.
Adjani is incredible in her role, but she makes you uncomfortable because she doesn't look like her character is having a breakdown, it looks as if the actress is having a breakdown on camera. She stares wildly, screeches her dialogue, contorts her body and generally acts like a woman possessed (hence the title). By the end of the film, the married couple have become partners in crime, accepting their shared mania and indulging in acts of bloody violence. Their passion has grown so all-consuming that it has triggered World War Three, judging by the Apocalyptic ending. A film of uncontrollable emotions, Possession takes love and hate to a ridiculous extreme, and is perhaps a better film to experience than analyse, considering the characters are so confused they can't grasp what is going on either. Music by Andrzej Korynski.
[After being banned there in the eighties, Possession received its British DVD debut in 2010 from Second Sight with featurettes including The Other Side Of The Wall (The Making Of Possession) and an interview with Andrzej Zulawski. The same company's 2013 Blu-ray had these features and more.]