Repulsion; Chinatown – review
n 1964 Polanski came to Britain to make his first three English-language films, beginning with Repulsion, a brilliant, low-budget psychological horror movie. Ten years later he made the sociopolitical thriller Chinatown, his second and last Hollywood movie before his enforced withdrawal to the continent. Both are masterpieces about puzzled men, troubled women and perverse fathers, and it's good to have them back on the big screen as part of the BFI Southbank's Polanski retrospective.
In Repulsion Catherine Deneuve gives an astonishing, clinically accurate performance as a French beautician staying with her sister in South Kensington, whose descent into homicidal insanity is triggered by loneliness and thwarted sexuality. Made for under £50,000 for an exploitation company, it doesn't look cheap or hurried and took the Silver Bear in Berlin where the following year Polanski's Cul-de-sac won the Golden Bear. The subtle black-and-white photography is by Gilbert Taylor, who had just shot Dr Strangelove and A Hard Day's Night.
Chinatown is, I think, Polanski's greatest achievement to date, a neo-noir classic set in the 1930s, in which Jack Nicholson is remarkable as a sleazy Los Angeles private eye discovering his carefully concealed humanity when drawn into a labyrinthine web of southern California corruption. From the film's eerie art nouveau poster you pass entering the cinema to the unforgettable final line ("Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown"), this film is flawless.