The viscous vortex of marital breakdown, let the wound fester and tentacles will sprout. ("Maybe all couples go through this...") West Berlin is the perfect stage for the relationship past the curdling point, eyes peer over the Wall as the businessman (Sam Neill) comes home to the straying wife (Isabelle Adjani) and the race into psychosis begins. It’s just not proper, he says like Mencius griping to his mother, the welter of suspicion and jealousy leads to a fetid apartment where her secret lover lies, a pulsing incubus fueled by sex and blood. "That fundamentally vulgar structure, the triangle," is a starting point in Andrzej Zulawski’s grand and shivery art-therapy hallucination, a burlesque farrago of domestic dramas played close and fast in a distinctively Polish register. Emotional mayhem is the language, the world split between blanched tiles and soiled wallpaper is a thin cover for infernal heat, human beastliness ignites from beneath modernity like a string of firecrackers. (Heinz Bennett’s flaky guru with a concealed judo chop and Margit Carstensen’s provocatively hobbling confidante, the foamy nightmare style cries for such comic gargoyles.) The crucial strain is from The Little Shop of Horrors, the fraught hausfrau squeaks before a wooden Christ and is answered after a bravura subway wipeout by the genesis of the cuckolding mutant. "Cancer or madness contorts reality. The possibility I’m talking about pierces reality." Fellini’s private detective (Juliet of the Spirits), Sister Fate and Sister Chance and assorted doppelgängers, Rivette’s exhaustive slashing (L’Amour fou). Obscenely visceral, Zulawski’s camera circles, reels, and erupts—the effect is a fusion of Pialat and Lovecraft, a study of annihilating pain shot with demonic elation. Holding the center is Adjani’s bedeviled intensity, tremor after tremor bending her pale beauty like cigarette burns on a lacy napkin. "Maybe you’re learning how to suffer. Now that would be an achievement!" Barker in Hellraiser has his own grue to shed, von Trier's Antichrist meanwhile owes Zulawski a constellation or two. Cinematography by Bruno Nuytten. With Johanna Hofer, Carl Duering, Shaun Lawton, and Michael Hogben.
--- Fernando F. Croce