From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Walerian Borowczyk (September 2, 1923 - February 3, 2006) was a Polish film director and erotomaniac. He directed 40 animation and feature films between 1946 and 1988 and has developed a cult following. His most acclaimed film is Blanche, his most infamous one La Bête. His later work was seen by many as a decline in the director's career after A Story of Sin, except in France, where he was hailed by nobrow critics such as Ado Kyrou.
Born in Kwilcz, near Poznań, he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, then devoted himself to painting and printmaking, including the creation of posters for the cinema , which earned him a national prize in 1953. In 1959, he settled in Paris.
His early films were surreal animations, some only a few seconds long, including several comic abecedaria. His most acclaimed early films were Był sobie raz (Once Upon A Time) (1957) and Dom (House) (1958, with Jan Lenica). In 1959, he worked with Chris Marker for Les Astronautes. Major works of this period include the nightmarish Jeux des Anges (1964) and the stop motion film Renaissance (1963), which uses reverse motion to depict various destroyed objects (a prayer book, a stuffed toy, etc.) re-assembling themselves, only to be destroyed again when the last object (a bomb) is complete. In 1967, he directed his first animated feature film, Théâtre de Monsieur & Madame Kabal: un film dessiné pour les adultes (Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre).
Borowczyk moved into live-action feature film with Goto, l'île d'amour (Goto, Isle of Love) (1968) and Blanche (1971), both tales of illicit love thwarted by jealous husbands, and both starring his own wife, Ligia Branice. One of his most appreciated films of this period, Dzieje grzechu (A Story of Sin) (1975), which was nominated for Palme d'or, is an adaptation of a Polish literary classic by Stefan Żeromski. Like his 1966 short film Rosalie (a Guy de Maupassant adaptation and a Silver Bear winner), Dzieje grzechu had successfully rendered the themes of seduction and infanticide. Contes immoraux (Immoral Tales) (1974) and his later work, including Interno di un convento (Behind Convent Walls) (1977) (inspired by Promenades dans Rome of Stendhal) and Cérémonie d'amour (Rites of Love) (1988) have been controversial, lauded by some for their unique surrealist vision and derided by others as contentless pornography. Especially, La Bête (The Beast) (1975) (based on the story Lokis by Prosper Mérimée and originally conceived in 1972 as a film on its own, but then in 1974 as the fifth story in Contes immoraux) was seen by many as a decline in the director's career after Dzieje grzechu, except in France, where it was hailed by critics such as Ado Kyrou.
In 1981, he made Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (Blood of Dr Jekyll), a version of the Jekyll and Hyde story starring Udo Kier and Patrick Magee and depicting Jekyll's transformation as a violent rebellion against the hypocrisy and sexual repression of Victorian Britain. In his 1988 book Nightmare Movies, Kim Newman described the film as "dark, misanthropic and interestingly offensive". He made a brief return to animation with his 1984 short film Scherzo Infernal. In 1987, he co-directed (he left the project on a dispute concerning the lead actress Monique Gabrielle) Emmanuelle V, a film of Emmanuelle series, that was also released in a hardcore video-only version. In 1988 and 1990, he directed four episodes for the series Série rose: Les Chefs d’œuvre de la littérature érotique: Almanach des adresses des demoiselles de Paris, Un traitement justifié, Le Lotus d'or, and L'Experte Halima.
Many of Borowczyk's films use historical settings, including Ars Amandi: l'arte di amare (The Art of Love) (1983), set in the time of Ovid (and featuring the poet as a character); Blanche, set during the Middle Ages; and three of the four episodes in Contes immoraux, set respectively in the nineteenth century, the sixteenth century, and the Borgia papacy.
A number of his films (like the "tale" La Marée (The Tide) in Contes immoraux, the 1976 La Marge (The Streetwalker), the episode Marceline in Les Héroïnes du mal: Margherita, Marceline, Marie (Immoral Women) (1979), and Cérémonie d'amour were based on stories by André Pieyre de Mandiargues. A less usual product of this cooperation was Une collection particulière of 1973, a representation of de Mandiargues's collection of pornographic items, with Mandiargues having written (and read) the narration. His 1980 film Lulu was an onscreen adaptation of the play by Frank Wedekind.
Borowczyk was the author of two books; Anatomia diabła (Anatomy of Devil) (1992) and Moje polskie lata (My Polish Years) (2002). Music in Borowczyk films usually draws from the high art canon of classical music, for example, he uses Mendelssohn in The Story of Sin, Handel in Goto, Island of Love and Domenico Scarlatti in La Bête.
He died of heart failure in Paris in 2006.
Short Films (animation unless otherwise stated)
- Mois d'aôut (1946)
- Atelier de Fernand Léger (1954)
- Photographes vivantes (1954)
- Jesien (1955) - aka Autumn
- Nagrodzone uczucia (1957) - aka Love Requited
- Byl sobie raz (1957) - aka Once Upon a Time
- Dom (1958) - aka House
- L'École (1959) - aka The School
- Les Astronautes (1960)
- Le Concert de M. et Mme. Kabal (1962)
- L'Encyclopédie de grand-maman (1963) - aka Grandmother's Encyclopaedia
- Holy Smoke (1963)
- Renaissance (1963)
- Les Jeux des anges (1964)
- Le Dictionnaire de Joachim (1965) - aka Joachim's Dictionary
- Rosalie (1966, live action)
- Gavotte (1967, live action)
- Diptyque (1967)
- Le Phonographe (1969)
- Une Collection particulière (1973, live action)
- Escargot de Venus (1975)
- L'Amour monstre de tous les temps (1977)
- L'Armoire (1979, live action) - part two of the portmanteau film Collections privées
- Scherzo infernal (1984)
Feature Films (live action unless otherwise stated)
- Le Théâtre de M. et Mme. Kabal (1967, animation) - aka The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal
- Goto, l'île d'amour (1968) - aka Goto, Isle of Love
- Blanche (1971)
- Contes immoraux (1974) - aka Immoral Tales
- Dzieje grzechu (1975) - aka The Story of Sin
- La Bête (1975) - aka The Beast, Death's Ecstasy
- La Marge (1976) - aka The Streetwalker
- Interno d'un convento (1977) - aka Behind Convent Walls
- Les Heroïnes du mal (1979) - aka Heroines of Evil, Three Immoral Women
- Lulu (1980)
- Hyper auto erotic art (1980) - (documentary, 75 min) stills by Yoshifumi Hayashi panned over
- Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981) - aka The Blood of Dr Jekyll, Bloodbath of Dr Jekyll, Bloodlust, The Experiment
- Ars amandi (1983) - aka The Art of Love
- Emmanuelle V (1987)
- Cérémonie d'amour (1988) - aka Rites of Love
- Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984 (1994) by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs (with a chapter dedicated to Borowczyk). ISBN 0-312-13519-X
- Nightmare Movies (1988) by Kim Newman. ISBN 0-517-57366-0
- Borowczyk: Cinéaste onirique (1981), with a foreword by André Pieyre de Mandiargues. ISBN 2865930017