Screening on Film
Directed by Andrzej Zulawski.
With Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Margit Carstensen.
France/West Germany, 1981, 35mm, color, 127 min.

Polish writer-director Andrei Zulawski (b. 1940) remains a controversial figure among cinephiles. Working first in Poland and later in France, his no-holds-barred filmmaking has generated a number of unnerving works from various genres: absurdist science fiction that fuses Tarkovsky and Herzog, Kafkaesque black comedy-cum-war film, and sanguinary melodrama. Topping them all is this feverish character study of a man who comes unglued when his wife leaves him. Here Zulawski blends Polanskiesque uncanny and Bergmanian psychodrama with the then-burgeoning subgenre of body horror associated with Alien and early Cronenberg. In addition, the setting – a grim Berlin neighborhood, near the Berlin Wall – suggests that the film may also be a particularly abject political allegory. The nightmarish result became an immediate cult classic, even though it was shorn of so much of its sex and violence for its initial US release that it lost a third of its running time. This re-release of the full-length version gives audiences a chance to marvel at the fearless performances by Sam Neill and especially Isabelle Adjani as both the faithless wife and her doppelganger. — David Pendleton

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