Continuing on with our foray into the world of Polish artisan director Walerian Borowczyk we get to his real coming of age picture- Immoral Tales aka Contes immoraux (1974). The sizzling and sultry undercurrent of repressed desire in Goto, Isle of Love (1968) and Blanche (1971) get left by the wayside in favour of a decadent and lavish indulgence in pleasures of the flesh for this his third full-length feature. As the director shakes free the confines of convention and pushes the margins of taste he manages to evoke the feel of a boundary breaking, free spirited romp in this anthology centred around stories based on taboo sexual exploration and the satisfaction of desire by less than conventional means. So it is that the director opened the door to the focus that would dominate his work for the next decade- his own brand of oddball erotica; a move that caused him to fall from grace with the critics. Here presented on yet another gloriously rendered Arrow restoration to Blu-ray, and packed with some valuable extras, newcomers and existing fans are able to enjoy another instalment in the wonderfully woven web of director Borowczyk.
To call Borowczyk simply a maker of pornographic art is in part way to devalue the deliciously inventive work that he produced. That is not to say there is anything wrong, or lesser, about pornography as a format. But while porn and the work of Borowczyk do indeed share a certain honesty in their crafting, Borowczyk’s films do not appear to serve the purpose of existing to simply evoke sexual stimulation. Anyone looking for something along those lines here is bound to come away sorely disappointed. As for those who so easily dismiss the films on this basis, all I can say is, you are doing yourself a great disservice. With Immoral Tales there is something else at play, a bit of the good old French oh la la, and something even quite innocent once you wade through the vintage pubic hair and pale young flesh on display; such as a sniggering at all the naughtiness; a little rebellious wink to the viewers and blowing of raspberries to anyone who might get remotely offended by the material. Also added to this is Borowczyk’s dry sense of satirical and often surreal humour which includes poking fun at the hypocrisy of religion, social institution and convention. On this note while there might be plenty to enthral and even titillate as well, this becomes a secondary factor in the enjoyment when you consider the grand scheme of things. Borowczyk wraps everything up in his exquisite painterly technique dealing out breath taking imagery as he crafts his provocative tales on screen. The director treating, as always, film as his canvass and transcending the medium of cinema in a way that so few others have managed to achieve when it comes to the magnitude of creativity on display here.
There are four stories. The first takes place on a beach where two cousins share a sexual encounter. André (Fabrice Luchini) would like his female cousin (Lise Danvers) to perform oral sex on him in time to the rhythm of the tide. The camera focuses on the contours of the couple’s bodies and the sound of Andre’s voice, intertwining this with the view of the sea sweeping in and out on a pebbled beach. There is poetry in the rhythm here, and even though there is not much going on in the way of ‘action’ compared to the other segments, it is nevertheless mesmerising to behold. During the second segment things start to hot up a bit when a young girl (Charlotte Alexandra) is confined to her room and finds a new pleasure to be discovered in the cucumbers she has been left to eat. The fashioning of mundane objects as sex toys is a concept that really came to fruition later on in Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls (1978), but here in this earlier example masturbation/ and religion are mixed with similar cheeky results.
However, it is in the third story that viewers are treated to the show stopper of the piece. The tale of Countess Elizabeth Bathory is retold in the filmmaker’s inimitable style with Paloma Picasso (daughter of artist Pablo) in the titular role. The tale begins when unwitting girls are selected from a rural location by Bathory’s assistant and lesbian lover to be taken to the castle to await their fate- which remains unknown to the victims at this point. This is followed by a generous scene in which the new girls are seen bathing on their arrival before building to a sumptuous climax where the naked girls chase a similarly disrobed Bathory around her sleeping quarters- the scene designed to look like a living and breathing painting at work. The most iconic image that can be taken away, however, is when lead Picasso is viewed taking a bath in virgin blood (for which pigs blood was used to get the right consistency). As the director blends in the themes of sex, death and the quest for immortality he does by building up a luscious cinematic canvass, and one that seems a fitting tribute to the legendary Countess Bathory. Both grotesque and beautiful this is not to be missed, and definitely the highlight of the affair.
Ending on a final high Borowczyk goes for gold and takes a lustful and gloriously blasphemous pot shot at his old foe the church in his ode to the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. Borgia (Florence Bellamy) is displayed in a hedonistic sexual encounter that includes incest, with not one, but two male partners. The segment is carried out with an ample injection of burlesque humour demonstrating Borowczyk’s brazen sense of fun.
Arrow package up the Blu-ray/DVD combo with another respectable offering of extra material produced exclusively for this release, including-
- New high definition digital transfers of the feature and the shorts
- Uncompressed Mono 2.0 PCM Audio
- Optional English subtitles
- Introduction by Borowczyk expert Daniel Bird
- Love Reveals Itself, a new interview programme featuring production manager Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin and cinematographer Noël Véry
- A Private Collection (1973), presented in the commercially released version and the more explicit ‘Oberhausen’ cut
- Boro Brunch, a reunion meal recorded in February 2014 reuniting members of Borowczyk’s crew
- Theatrical trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original poster designs
The restoration, as with the other titles in Arrow’s Borowczyk Camera Obscura Collection, are all fantastically rendered. Grain is prominent where necessary, detail well defined with no loss and age related flaws are kept to a minimum. Colours are well saturated, although not heavy as with most of the director’s work from this period.
Overall another outstanding release that is begging to join the ranks of every cult film fan’s collection. You can check out more details on the release here at the official Arrow page.