Possession (1981) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: May 24, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Possession (1981) (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Andrzej Zulawski

Release Date(s)

1981 (October 15, 2021)

Studio(s)

Gaumont (Umbrella Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A+

Review

[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION-FREE Australian Blu-ray import.]

Possession is a film that’s truly beyond genre, though many have tried to squeeze it into one. Most call it a horror film, but it also contains elements of drama and science fiction, never fully committing to any of them, with several operating at once. Director Andrzej Zulawski’s film isn’t specifically about the terrible divorce that he was going through at the time, but invokes feelings of division, separation, alienation, despair, and hatred—often in extraordinarily and shockingly exaggerated ways. Themes of division are on clear display as the film was shot in Berlin, showcasing the wall that was still standing there at the time. The film also toys with the idea of doppelgangers, perfectly realized versions of ourselves that can replace us, but within the context of a married couple (Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill) coming to grips with their detachment from each other while still hoping for some kind of betterment.

The film is perhaps most famous for a scene of Isabelle Adjani suffering a violently-animated miscarriage in a subway, which many continue to take out of context, treating it as humorous instead of horrifying. However, it plays a part in a larger story about the disintegration of two people, not just from each other, but from themselves as well. Amazing cinematography, incredible monster effects by Carlo Rambaldi, and a go-for-the-throat acting and story approach make Possession one of the most amazing pieces of filmmaking ever mounted. Whether you like the film or not, you won’t soon forget it.

Possession was shot by cinematographer Bruno Nuytten on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35 IIC and 35BL cameras and Arriflex lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Umbrella Entertainment brings the film to Blu-ray as #11 in their Worlds on Film: Beyond Genres line of titles utilizing the TF1 Studio 2020 master for the main presentation, which was restored in 4K from the original camera negative. It’s a healthy master with heavy to medium grain, which isn't entirely tight at all times, but not heavily pixellated either. A bit of DNR is applied as some shots are more processed than others. Excellent levels of fine detail are on display. The color palette is natural, but still appears cold with strong swatches of red. Contrast is good with deep blacks and occasional flashes of brightness. A line running through the frame that comes and goes has been repaired, but a faintness of it remains. Otherwise, it all appears clean and stable.

Audio is provided in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. Excellent support is provided for the sparse score. It’s definitely not a flat track as dialogue and sound effects are given a variety of volumes, depending upon how they’re utilized for each scene. This is definitely a film should have a proper 5.1 mix available.

The Blu-ray disc of Possession sits inside a clear amaray case with a version of the original French artwork on the front, a still of Isabelle Adjani during the miscarriage on the back, and the US poster artwork and Australian DVD artwork on the inner sleeve. Everything is housed in a slipcover featuring a version of the original French artwork. The following extras are on the disc:

  • Audio Commentary with Andrzej Zulawksi and Daniel Bird
  • Audio Commentary with Frederic Tuten and Daniel Bird
  • The Other Side of the Wall: The Making of Possession (HD – 51:42)
  • Interview with Andrzej Zulawski (HD – 36:01)
  • US Cut of Possession (SD – 77:11)
  • Repossessed: The Re-Editing of Possession (HD – 12:29)
  • A Divided City: The Locations of Possession (HD – 7:19)
  • The Sounds of Possession: Korzysnki on Zulawski (HD – 19:06)
  • Our Friend in the West (HD – 6:40)
  • Basha: The Unsung Heroine of Polish Poster Art (HD – 5:55)
  • International Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:47)
  • US Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:57)

Umbrella also provides an excellent compendium of bonus materials from various releases of the film. First is an audio commentary with Zulawski and filmmaker Daniel Bird, which dates back to the original Anchor Bay DVD release in 2000. The second is with the film’s co-screenwriter Frederick Tuten, also moderated by Daniel Bird, which was recorded for the UK Region B Second Sight Blu-ray release in 2013. Both are great companions to the film and essential listening for fans as both men talk avidly about the making of it. Daniel Bird is also responsible for the majority of the other extras found on this release. The Other Side of the Wall is an excellent making-of documentary featuring Zulawski and members of the crew and production team recounting their experiences on the film. The French interview with Zulawski originally appeared on the French Region 2 TF1 Video DVD release, but unfortunately, the brief interview with Isabelle Adjani hasn’t carried over. The US version of the film is tape-sourced, but it’s in good enough shape to be presentable. It’s an entirely different animal, and worth at least a single watch just to give you an idea of how poorly-handled the original US release was. Repossessed goes a step further and highlights the many differences between the two versions. A Divided City is a location tour for the film. In The Sounds of Possession, composer Andrzej Korzynski details working with Zulawski and his contributions to the film. In Our Friend in the West, Christian Ferry talks about working for Paramount and discovering Zulawski. Basha discusses and examines the poorly-appreciated Polish artist who created the iconic poster art for the film.

Several extras from other DVD and Blu-ray releases are not present, which include an isolated score and effects audio track; an interview with translator Eric Veaux; archival interviews with Zulawski, Sam Neill, and Heinz Bennent; the aforementioned brief interview with Isabelle Adjani; and a CD soundtrack. It’s also worth noting that the film has been released on 4K Ultra HD in France, but nowhere else as of this writing.

Umbrella’s release of Possession isn’t the final word on the film, but it certainly offers plenty of great bonus material, as well as a fine presentation. Both fans and newcomers looking for a cheaper alternative to Mondo Vision’s now fairly-pricey Blu-ray releases should be more than happy with this.

- Tim Salmons

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

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