Rosemary’s Baby, 1968
It’s still brilliant, this film, even after having seen it many times and it being half a century old. It was the first time seeing it for my companion; she thought it was brilliant too. Not scary, but creepy.
Watching it again, I noticed particularly the theme of control. Lovely, young, innocent, bored Rosemary is directed by everyone else and most of the time she’s too nice and polite to assert her own needs. A comment on how an Omaha, Nebraska, upbringing doesn’t prepare you for the tough NYC life, perhaps. (According to IMDB, this film is part of a loose trilogy with Repulsion -1965- and The Tenant -1976- on the horrors of city living.)
Rosemary is so pliable, willing to please and fitting in with social expectations. The film also illustrates how women (traditionally, and particularly at that time but still now) don’t always believe their own experience, and can be so easily persuaded that they’re making it all up ‘dear’. But it turns out she’s not. Her madness is not even a metaphor – there are evil forces out to get her.
The way her husband and the neighbours isolate Rosemary from anyone else is textbook domestic abuse. He is a man of no morals: personifying the timeless story of selling one’s soul to achieve success and treading on others to get to the top.
Watching it this time (on a beautifully scratchy 35mm print at Filmoteca), I was looking out for how Polanski made it so creepy and claustrophobic. He’s very good at making the ordinary seem threatening and strange, at exposing the weirdness that lies beneath the apparently normal surface. Part of it’s in the shot composition: strange angles, characters very close in the foreground; in the sound, which is either creepy music or very effective silence; in the set: they make the apartment all yellow and sunny, but the corridor, the building, the basement are dark, stuffy and foreboding. I like the way the story really uses the environment: when she’s ill and withdrawn and in pain – it’s cold and winter. When she’s blooming, more confident – it’s warm. When she’s paranoid and panicky – it’s too hot and sweaty.
When I got home and was waiting for the lift on my building, everything felt a bit strange; I was looking at the ordinary through a horror film lens, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if the devil himself had walked down the stairs. I love that about cinema! The way it can transport me to a different space.
Venus in Fur, 2013
The Pianist, 2002
Bitter Moon, 1992