News from the Locarno Festival

Cat People

Histoire(s) du cinéma: Tribute to Nastassja Kinski

Cat People


© Universal Pictures


Making a remake should mean getting a movie and re-visiting it using one’s own visual taste, inserting, when possible, personal themes and philosophies. This is what happened in 1982 with Cat People, the remake by Paul Schrader of the horror classic directed by Jacques Tourneur forty years earlier.

Behind the stunning film aesthetic, the author, who had just realized the acclaimed American Gigolo, inserted some of his most important obsessions, especially the ones connected with human duality. Through the ambiguous and hypnotic relationship of the two brothers, Paul and Irena, Schrader shows in a totally provocative way the sexuality (almost always repressed), which tears his characters apart, since they are split between what is allowed in a constraining society and human beings’ primary instincts. Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell – two actors who have been exceedingly capable to “show” their body as a vehicle of sense – revealed themselves to be perfect for elucidating such discourse, which in Cat People starts off as subtle and later grows pulsating and visceral, until it explodes in the final remarkable sequence of the transformation.

The horror is not the animal side hidden in everyone of us. The horror is trying to suppress it, or even worse radically denying it. Cat People is a film about repressed instincts, so powerful that they destroy the individual from within. A recurrent theme in Paul Schrader’s filmography, not only in the films he directed himself. Let’s just think about the amazing screenplays he wrote for Martin Scorsese, starting from Taxi Driver all the way to The Last Temptation of Christ and the painful and (too) underrated Bringing Out the Dead.

Adriano Ercolani

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