Rapture (1965)

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An American film by all technicalities but wholly European in its feel and locale, John Guillerim’s Rapture is an oddity through and through. As a tiny, character focused drama with minimal square footing it stands out in Guillerim’s filmography which is frequently defined by big budget bloatbusters such as The Towering Inferno and King Kong. As a moody, psychosexual drama with Polanski and Bergman undertones it stands out by being funded with 20th Century Fox money. It is also anchored on a young french actress, Patricia Cozzi, who seemed to immediately jump into early retirement and fade into obscurity, making this film the only showcase for her exceptional skills. Rapture is the kind of unsung, strange film you can’t quite put your finger on; exceptional enough to make you question why it remains so obscure, but bizarre enough for you to wonder how and why it got made.

Concerning a small family living in a farmhouse in rural France, the young daughter, Angela (Cozzi), is growing into womanhood and struggling with feelings of desire under the firm parentage of her widowed father. Angela first aims her frustrations and desires on a scarecrow which she treats as a real person (weird echoes of Nekromantik‘s perverted desire also rippled through my mind) which then morphs into an obsession with an escaped convict (Dean Stockwell, looking the youngest I’ve ever seen him) who she and her father offer a safe haven to. Naturally it all builds to a level of sexual hysteria you’d expect, but the film’s surroundings, casting and aesthetics – a french farmhouse, the forbidden love between Cozzi and Stockwell, that symbolic scarecrow and the shadowy monochromatic photography as well as Georges Delerue’s score – make the journey to that familiar territory refreshingly unfamiliar.

The suppressed sexual feelings of a mousy female has fuelled enough semi-horror movies (Repulsion, Symptoms, all the way up to last year’s Thelma etc.) that it is practically a sub-genre at this point but Rapture doesn’t quite feel of a piece with those. I brought up Bergman earlier because Guillerim seems to be aspiring to a certain level of psychological artistry and character-based drama beyond genre titillation. It has an unmistakable feel, a dampness and dankness that made me think of Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (and Polanski’s Cul-de-sac) as well as a sharpness in its bite that reminded me of Persona. Cozzi is such a big part of the film’s success. She is odd and peculiar with a look that is just off-centre of being traditionally beautiful but is more captivating because of it. There’s an unflinching determination to her stare that makes her seem dangerous and unstable, but she’s never unsympathetic. Her young age, mixed with the sexual overtones, could certainly lead to some uncomfortable material but the film is more interested in exploring her feelings and desires – her inner-turmoil – rather than exploiting it in the service of some distasteful sexualisation. The intent isn’t to be sexy or arousing, but raw and emotional – a key distinction a lot of films of this ilk don’t make.

Now fifty years old, it feels like people are seeing and talking about Rapture more than they did upon its original release, though it is still scarcely referenced. Apparently Guillerim himself was instrumental in getting the film restored for home video before his death in 2015. Out of all the films he made this was the one he was the most proud of, suggesting the blockbusters he became renowned for later did not necessarily represent his true sensibility. It makes you wonder what other films he had inside him and will begin a mourning for those movies, now forever unmade. As it stands Rapture is a curio that could easily be lumped in to the various sub-genres it flirts with (lets not forget the gamut of escaped convict love stories – The Beguiled, A Perfect World, Labor Day – it also resembles) but is best enjoyed when seen for the mainstream shadowland oddity it is.

Watched on Eureka blu-ray.

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