Isabelle Adjani considers herself a “survivor” after controversial thriller “Possession.”
The film, which places among IndieWire’s list of top ’80s films, was directed by Andrzej Żuławski and stars Adjani as a woman who decides into madness after running away from her marriage, causing her husband (Sam Neill) to discover the sinister nature of her infidelities. Adjani won the Best Actress award at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival but allegedly attempted suicide following the film’s release due to the extreme emotional and psychic demands of her performance.
Adjani revisited the legacy of “Possession” during an Interview magazine discussion alongside “Passages” and “Blue Is the Warmest Color” star Adèle Exarchopoulos.
“I often wonder, when a person is an actress, if they’re capable of overcoming everything that’s inflicted on them,” Adjani said. “I remember — if you’ll allow me to offer a comparison from my own career and some situations with (the director) Andrzej Żuławski — there was something of great violence that I agreed to take on. But I’ve realized over the years that it’s something I could never accept again, and it’s part of everything that my subconscious has been swallowing and incubating. I wonder if acting has been a bit unhealthy during certain periods of my life, no?”
She continued, “I consider myself a survivor for a lot of reasons. (…) What’s beautiful is to make a place within yourself for a character, without that character turning into a negative entity, but sometimes your life gets blown apart like that. Great actresses have been devoured from the inside. It’s a kind of self-cannibalism. It’s not a job that facilitates a happy frame of mind, quite the opposite. That’s why it’s important to be surrounded by friends who can be angels, but also conscientious objectors. Otherwise, you can lose yourself.”
Adjani addressed her pause from acting following “Possession,” adding, “I made it so I wouldn’t have to work all the time, and I was criticized for it. They said, ‘Why don’t you make more films?’ It was because my parents were ill and needed me, and my children needed me. I even forgot that I was an actress at certain times. But that, too, isn’t forgiven. Basically, there’s no way out.”
Adjani’s “Possession” co-star Sam Neill shared in his memoir that he feels the film could not be made today.
“(Director) Żuławski asked more of you than you could possibly give. There were times when he would scream, bellow at (Adjani) right in her face. It was distressing to see,” Neill wrote. “Nowadays I doubt you’d get away with it. But with Żuławski, you would do whatever it was he wanted. And although that makes me sound like a classic victim of abuse, which in a sense I think we were, it was more than that. We had complete belief in him as an artist, and we wanted to make this thing, whatever it was. We really wanted to be in This Thing. We were making something bigger than ourselves.”