Walerian Borowczyk  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"Most of your films are based, to some degree, on works of literature, and often by authors with notorious reputations, such as Frank Wedekind, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, and others who are less notorious, such as Stendhal and Robert Louis Stevenson . . ." --Susan Adler, "Enticements to Voyeurism, 1985

"This haunting and oppressive animation -- a masterpiece of modern art -- represents a daring attempt to portray not the reality of the camps, but their atmosphere, the "weight" of infinite fear and unknown horror, the presence of continuous and unforeseeable death." --Film As a Subversive Art (1974) by Amos Vogel on Les Jeux des Anges (1964)

Related e



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 [1], 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 (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, Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre.

Borowczyk moved into live-action feature film with Goto, Island 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 ''Behind Convent Walls (1977) (inspired by Promenades dans Rome of Stendhal) and 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, 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)

Feature Films (live action unless otherwise stated)

Further reading

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Walerian Borowczyk" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools