Béla Tarr’s Repulsion

“Inside every narrative film is a non-narrative film struggling to get out.” That is the compelling hypothesis Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin put to the test in this video essay. With success: the resulting remix is a mesmerizing mood piece.


The two essayists cut down Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) to a seven minute movie. Not a montage of highlights, on the contrary: they keep the in-between shots, the scenes where nothing of narrative importance is happening. In doing so, they recast the classic in a very different mold: that of the slow cinema of directors such as Béla Tarr. 


This is no mere gimmick, not just a trivial remix. Álvarez López and Martin use the specific qualities of the video essay as a Gedankenexperiment that would be hard (if not impossible) to conduct successfully in a written text. They try, however: the accompanying text they wrote for Mubi’s Notebook works nicely in tandem with the video essay. The article offers valuable insights not only into Polanski’s film, but also into the potential of audiovisual essays. In their own words:

Audiovisual essays allow us to form in practice what is called, in many fields, a thought experiment. It’s speculative criticism: let’s project one film into another, through another. Very different films, from very different times and places, with such apparently different goals. Could we discern, through this experiment, something that unites them: something that inhabits them both, informs them both, and undoes them both? Something deeply rooted in cinema, as a bedrock, before specific genres, markets, and modes of production intervene, channelling the possibilities?

In their other audiovisual essays too, Álvarez López and Martin prod and nudge the format into new directions, testing its usability for art criticism and scientific research. Check out their work on Mubi’s site.