Walerian Borowczyk

Walerian Borowczyk

While on holiday in Paris in the early 1950s, Borowczyk made two documentary shorts. Settling in Warsaw upon his return to Poland, he began to collaborate with fellow poster designer Jan Lenica, creating a series of surreal animated films, including "Byl sobie raz/Once Upon a Time" (1957) and "Dom/House" (1958). The latter combined animation and live action and was the first of Borowczyk's films to feature his wife, Ligia Branice. "Dom/House" is perhaps the best of the Lenica-Borowczyk collaboration as it utilized seemingly ordinary objects (a newspaper, a glass of milk) in a hallucinatory way to reflect the growing panic and claustrophobia of the leading lady. By the late 50s, Borowczyk had settled in France and was working regularly on television projects. He made his first solo animated film "L'Ecole/School" in 1958. Employing techniques pioneered by Alexandre Alexieff, he utilized pins pushed through a screen to create a shadow effect in the black-and-white "Terra Incognita" (1959). With Chris Marker, Borowczyk collaborated on "Les Astronauts" (also 1959), another mix of live action and animation that satirized the then-competition to be the first in space. The director reunited with Lenica for two films, "Le Concert de Monsieur et Madame Kabal" (1962) and "L'Encyclopedie de grand'mamman" (1963), which was the first in an uncompleted series using prints and illustrations as the basis for the story. "Renaissance" (also 1963) is considered to be one of Borowczyk's best and most original shorts. The film opens on a chaotic scene, a room littered with detritus that gradually reconstructs itself into a series of recognizable items (e.g., twisted bits of metal form a trumpet). As soon as all the items have been restored to form, however, an explosion occurs that destroys them once again. He followed with the disturbingly gory "Le Jeux des anges" (1964), which uses watercolors to depict a train trip to a prison camp where the "angels" become executioners, carrying out their gruesome killings to the accompaniment of liturgical music. Returning to the characters he first explored with Lenica, Borowczyk created his first full-length animated feature, the absurdist "Le Theatre de Monsieur and Madame Kabal" (1967). Filled with visual puns and gags, the film serves as a parable that can be read on several levels (i.e., the condition of mankind, the relationship between a shrew and her meek husband). At the time when most critics felt he had begun to reach his peak as animator, Borowczyk turned more to live action. His short "Rosalie" (1966) was based on a story by Guy de Maupassant and featured Ligia Branice in the title role of a servant accused of murdering her twin children. When the film opens, there is a display of the evidence against her which one by one disappears as she testifies. "Goto, l'ile d'amour/Goto, Island of Love" (1968), a Kafkaesque examination of an isolated, timeless society in which adultery, murder and betrayal play major roles, marked his first full-length live-action feature. "Blanche" (1971) was the first of several erotic period pieces. Shot as if a medieval tapestry had come to life, "Blanche" explored the themes of the nature of love and betrayal. "Contes immoraux/Immoral Tales" (1974) was Borowczyk's first financial success. An anthology of four short films, each explored the connections between erotica and the emotions it stirs, the use of talismans to trigger responses. Originally the film contained a fifth story, a lascivious take on Beauty and the Beast which the director excised. He later incorporated it in "La Bete/The Beast" (1975), a controversial comedy of sexual manners that seemed to endorse not only rape but also bestiality. While it had some champions, "La Bete" offended many and an alternate, edited version was released in many countries. Returning to his native land, Borowczyk shot "Dzieje Grechu/Story of a Sin" (1975), a turn-of-the-century romance about a teenaged girl who falls in love with a married man. The resulting feature was a popular success in Poland but was met with a mixed receptions and is considered one of the director's weaker efforts. His subsequent features have also examined similar themes with limited success. Most felt the films were handsome to look at but lacked depth and were repetitious. "Interno di un convento/Behind Convent Walls" (1978) examined the sexual liberation of a nun and its resulting scandals. "Les heroines du mal/Three Immoral Women" (also 1978) was another period anthology that dealt with murder and eroticism. Borowczyk directed a strange and unsuccessful version of the Jekyll-and-Hyde story, "Docteur Jekyll et les femmes/The Blood of Dr. Jekyll" (1981). By the time he helmed "Emmanuelle 5" (1986) and "Ceremonie d'amour/Rites of Love" (1988), it had become clear that the director had lost his touch. What had once been interesting and titillatingly voyeuristic had devolved into cliche.