The Story of Sin (Arrow Video, NR)

The tameness of the eroticism doesn’t hinder Borowczyk’s patented style, who keeps his strong themes of religion, sex positivity, and social control.

Walerian Borowczyk has had a nice piece of his catalog released by Arrow over the years. A compilation of his short films as well as his infamous erotica Immoral Tales and The Beast came before. Story of Sin will probably surprise those who indulged in the smart perversion of his better-known works. With such restraint in the level of nudity and sex, this is like a G-rated movie by comparison. The tameness of the eroticism doesn’t end up hindering Borowczyk’s patented style, who, despite toning down his usual surrealism and carnal revelry, keeps his strong themes of religion, sex positivity, and social control.

Grownup but still young Ewa (Grazyna Dlugolecka) is living like a child under a strict household. The staunch Polish Catholicism of the 1900s setting keeps everyone constrained and repressed. In the film’s first scene, Ewa kneels before a priest and asks what sin is. He tells her sin is lust and giving in to desire, that it is something in which she must never indulge. She agrees to do so but does not abide. She plunges into sin which, in fact, is simply a rushed and desperate sexual liberation. She falls in love and initiates a tryst with a married man, a tenant in her family’s estate. He resolves to divorce his wife for her and then leaves. Eventually she loses track of him, and goes through an odyssey on her way to find him. In a way, the film celebrates what religion sees as sin, and shows what perils come with stifling sexuality.

While considered a pornographer with a wild, ingenious imagination, Borowczyk often makes literary adaptations, including this one, whose story was written by the very well-regarded Polish author Stefan Zeromski. Although the explicitness of the film suggests modernity, the setting is conservative and nearly austere. Ewa is a typical literary heroine in her look and in her drive. Neither Virginia Woolf nor Jane Austen depicted love or attraction graphically, but their works share with The Story of Sin the embodying of feminine independence.

Aside from these intimate themes, broader depictions of gender inequality are woven in, specifically how women functioned in the Polish workforce, Ewa becoming a seamstress to make ends meet. Their place within the church and their own families are closely observed as well, and the authenticity of the time period is supported by the stunted interactions of the women in addition to the visuals.

Outdoor scenes have colors and lighting that mimic the paintings of Georges Seurat. The set design is rich and also metaphorical, from the rigid architecture of domestic households to the ashy griminess of the less reputable places Ewa finds herself in during the darker parts of her sexual awakening. The time period allows for many corsets and layers of clothing, the removal of which is much more thematically suggestive than pulling off a shirt. Despite all this, there aren’t very many sex scenes and shockingly little nudity considering the premise of the film and the reputation of its director.

The extras on this release are phenomenal. Several of Borowczyk’s short films, many of them wonderfully animated, are present along with video essays and talking head analyses of the film’s many components. The commentary is led by two podcasters, Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, who provide wonderful insights into the events on screen, as well as deliver context in the form of Borowczyk’s entire style and body of work.

This is a quality film and a quality release, although not as enticing as previous releases of Borowczyk’s films. Story of Sin requires more engagement on the viewer’s end along with a bit of patience, as the pace and mildness will be unfamiliar to fans of his other work. | Nic Champion

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