Immoral Tales and The Beast (Arrow Films, NR)

Immoral Tales 75Borowczyk continuously insists that Disney’s films are more erotic than his own, defending the artistic merits of his work.





The Beast 500

If you have no context for Walerian Borowczyk, let me start off by saying that he’s perhaps the only director I can think of that would naturally come up in conversations about the works of both Jan Svankmajer and Luis Buñuel. The Polish-born director actively made films starting in the 1940s and well into the 1980s. Borowczyk started off his lengthy film career as a surrealist animator working in Paris. Around the late 50s and 60s, he became known for a groundbreaking stop-motion animation style that would later inspire Terry Gilliam when working on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In fact, Gilliam includes Borowczyk’s film “Les Jeux des Anges” (1965) in his list of ten greatest animated films of all time (placing him right next to Svankmajer and the Quay Brothers, mind you). Soon after “Les Jeux des Anges,” Borowczyk made his foray into live-action films with the much-celebrated Goto, Isle of Love (1968). Although his work had always played with themes of sexuality and eroticism, it wasn’t until the 1970s that he gained his reputation amongst critics as an artist-turned-pornographer (or pervert, depending on who you’re talking to) with the release of two provocative films—Immoral Tales (1974) and The Beast (1975).

Immoral Tales, Borowczyk’s first explicitly erotic film, has never been available in its complete form until this restoration distributed by Arrow Films. In the past it has been available as a four-part anthology, but this Blu-ray release includes the original five-part cut of the film including the infamous “The Beast of Gévaudan” (more on that later). The film’s shorts touch on transgressive topics of religious iconography and masturbation, loss of virginity, bloodlust, and incest. His films often deal with satirical comments on the oppressive forces of class and religion, while also having a certain joyous—though often quite dark—sense of humor. Take for example the second short entitled “Thérése Philosophe,” involving a teenage girl in the Victorian era who is locked away in her room for three days due to some mischievous behavior. Being captive with only a few cucumbers as company culminates in the only way one can expect it to. She goes through a sexual awakening aided by her love of Christ and some religious iconography. After sexually satisfying herself, she escapes her room feeling free. As she runs away, it appears the short is about to end until a man rushes after her and she screams in agony at the impending assault in a way that’s subtly played for humor.

If we exclude “The Beast of Gevaudan,” the strongest work is the re-telling of the legend of Elizabeth Báthory played by Paloma Picasso (daughter of Pablo Picasso) in her only film role. It is by far the most sensual short, much of which is due to Paloma’s presence onscreen as well as the rich color palette. If you’re not familiar with the story of Elizabeth Báthory, I won’t spoil the end results—just know that it looks brilliant.

The set also includes an introduction of the film by Daniel Bird, Bird’s visual essay on Borowczyk, and a new interview program featuring his trusted cinematographer Noël Véry (he has some interesting things to say about Paloma Picasso). Best of all, the set features a newly-edited archival interview with Borowczyk. The interview clocks in at about an hour, and is chock-full of memorable lines from Borowczyk, particularly so when he becomes disgruntled at the interviewer for suggesting that his films are erotic. He continuously insists that Disney’s films are more erotic than his own, defending the artistic merits of his work. In another furious moment, he becomes very upset at the thought that a director who makes movies about alcoholism aren’t called alcoholics, whereas he makes movies about sex and spends his career being called a pervert.

Immoral Tales did result in a loss of critical favor for Borowczyk, but it was The Beast that sealed the fate of his reputation. If you are unfamiliar with the film and find yourself interested, I urge you to stop reading now. It’s best to watch The Beast unaware of what’s to come. When making Immoral Tales, Borowczyk decided to hold back his short “The Beast of Gévaudan” to use as the dream sequence of a feature film called The Beast. Like Immoral Tales, it is a sexual fable tied loosely to Beauty and the Beast. Immediately the film shocks its viewer, as the first ten minutes are dedicated to horses copulating on the estate of an upper-class family. The family’s financial stability depends on their mysterious son (who seems disturbed), Mathurin, and a young English woman named Lucy who has just arrived to the estate. Much to her aunt’s horror, Lucy finds herself excited by the horses so much so that she takes some pictures. Throughout the film she returns to the pictures and pleasures herself, ultimately resulting in a show-stopping daydream that utilizes “The Beast of Gévaudan.” The dream is better seen than written about, but will leave you doubled over with laughter and completely shocked. Just know that the beast has a horrifying appendage and copious amounts of sperm (which by the way Borowczyk made himself, and detailed the ingredients in one of the features). After waking from her dream, some surreal events occur that impact the events of their upcoming marriage.

The special features for The Beast are even better than Immoral Tales. There are three animated commercials done by Borowczyk, of which “Holy Smoke!” is especially interesting. Also included is a Renoir-inspired anti-hunting short film called “Gunpoint” by Peter Graham that Borowczyk shot and edited, some sketches for The Beast, and a brief documentary on the sound sculptures Borowczyk used. The treasure amongst them is Noël Véry’s commentary on footage shot during the making of The Beast. He speaks with such candid fondness for Borowczyk, you really get an idea of what the man was like even more so than the interview that comes with Immoral Tales. Both films are packed with interesting special features, and the restoration will perhaps bring new appreciation to Borowczyk’s masterful framing and use of color. In the introduction for The Beast Peter Bradshaw says he believes that we are in a critical period before Borowczyk has been properly appreciated. Hopefully these outstanding releases by Arrow can help change that. | Cait Lore

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