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'Repulsion' a Hothouse of Insanity


The beauty of young Catherine Deneuve in "Repulsion" is both beguiling and deceptive. Gaze at her perfectly formed, serene face and you might begin to think that all is right in the world.

Then Roman Polanski takes you inside that pretty head, and everything is upside-down. Deneuve's character, Carol, is a tangle of disturbed impulses ready to blossom into madness. She's an angel who just happens to be a sexual basket case with violent urges.

Polanski made "Repulsion" (screening Friday as part of UC Irvine's "Obscure Desires, Vivid Memories" series) in 1965, a couple of years after his unsettling "Knife in the Water" and just before his crossover smash, "Rosemary's Baby."

Carol's paranoia is encompassing. She watches everything with the slightly vacant stare of someone who wants to disassociate from what's happening around her. She doubts her own normalcy and fears whatever she comes across, whether strangers on the street or her would-be boyfriend, Colin (John Fraser).

Sex is especially troublesome--as we learn early on when Colin kisses her and she immediately runs upstairs, brushes her teeth and tosses the toothbrush out the window.

Her insanity really kicks in when her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) leaves for the weekend. The apartment they share becomes a dark hothouse of crazed thoughts and fantasies as Carol locks herself in. The movie shows us Carol's life outside the apartment (she's a nearly mute beautician at a nearby salon), but it's behind closed doors where Polanski gets down and dirty.

The eeriest elements of "Repulsion" are graphic: Carol imagines rooms as hideous life forms with arms jutting from the walls. And there's always an erotic context as the hands reach out to fondle or abuse her.

This isn't tawdry, though. The imagery is used to document Carol's disintegration. In "Repulsion," you watch someone implode, and it's as scary as any horror flick.

Deneuve is remarkable, playing a complex role with savvy and using that pristine face of hers as a warning: Don't trust what you see; there's more going on than just this.

And Polanski grinningly takes the next step: What's going on can be very bad, especially when it's all in your head.

* What: "Repulsion" by Roman Polanski.

* When: Friday at 7 and 9 p.m.

* Where: The Student Center Crystal Cove Auditorium, Bridge Road and Periera Drive, UC Irvine.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Jamboree Road and head south to Campus Drive and go left. Turn right onto Bridge Road and follow it into the campus.

* Wherewithal: $2 to $4.

* Where to call: (714) 824-5588.

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