Walerian Borowczyk proved himself as capable of investigating the internal nature of men and women as he was their sexual adventures -- often with the same scandalous and poetic depth. Many of his films expose a deep, abiding interest in not only raw earthly pleasures but also the psychological processes -- the needs and hungers and fears -- that lead up to them. In Immoral Tales, he traced the struggle of lusty individuals for freedom. In Immoral Women, he continues this theme, mirroring the joyful, natural decadence of sexual passion with the visually surreal. Capturing women in a variety of situations (both sexual and political), he is careful to depict sex as both a pleasure and power struggle, weapon and toy. In the meantime, he also has much to say about the evolving, often treacherous nature of emotional love, gender wars, and the hypocrisy of the church -- smut with a conscience! Bororwczyk's cultural criticism can't be ignored, as his scathing condemnation of church and state are as evident and bold as the naked flesh in his frames. This is particularly true in Immoral Women, wherein deception and the search for profit is often revealed as just another dimension of sex, which is surly as emotional as it is a physical act.
Following in the long line of anthology formats revolving around a similar theme or unifying thread, Immoral Women is a collection of four small films that examine the taboo desires of a quartet of erotically charged, intelligent and quite resourceful women. Going boldly where others feared to tread, Borowczyk features a carnal catalogue of depravities both visually provoking and thematically taboo. Ranging from the simply lurid to the bestial, the tone of each chapter is informed by the nature of the particular passion explored. Therefore danger stands alongside enticement, the forbidden with the sexually explicit. Mood and emotion never take second place to the exploitation of bare flesh. The driving desires behind each of the luscious ladies, and the psychological obsessions from which they stem, connect the salacious images to emotional themes that lend deeper meaning to what would otherwise simply be a simplistic (if good looking) fetishistic catalogue of sex acts. While honest emotional drives and literary themes enhance the sexual obsessions, imagery takes precedence over plot, for they are not traditionally plotted narratives so much as flashes of emotion and insight, sexual revelations closer to the epiphany stories of a smut-peddling James Joyce than a traditionalist story teller.
The first episode is Margherita, centering around Marina Pierro, the daughter of a baker sexually pursued by an artist and moneylender. Loving a local tradesman, she allows herself to become an object of devotion for a painter, enticing both him and the moneylender Bini to get what she wants. This Chaucer-like plot descends into exploitative intrigue tempered by a poetic storm of sensual imagery and stark contrasts between tone, ranging from the dramatic to the cartoonish. Flesh and art, the human body and architecture, are merged into an uneven if eventful whole in this parable of lust and love. A riot of color and bawdy humor, certain scenes border on the surreal, and the fragmented storyline and funhouse atmosphere only add to the joyous feeling of chaos. This episode is a celebration of sexuality at once both enticing and artfully restrained, appealing as much to the brain as to the libido.
The second entry, Marceline, is also the most infamous, centering around a voluptuous young thing who has developed a strange, naughty bond with her pet bunny. While words alone do little service to the unsettling and rather insane premise, suffice it so say that this isn't a film to show the kiddies at Easter! A rather troubling piece of celluloid, this scene alone begs for comment, and is in itself worth the price of admission. Equally shocking and tender, this outrageous, inappropriate scene easily leads to questions of moral conscience and where one's own tastes and preferences stand. No matter where you weigh in, that scene, and the story as a whole, is a brazen, thoughtful work of, yes, art, calculated and executed so as to arouse thought -- and more than a few chuckles.
MARIE, the final entry, can't help but disappoint after the twisted imagery and scandalous nods of the first two stories. More of a parody of sexuality than a tale proper, the brief episode feels uncompleted and immature compared with the rest. Still, the sly winks and humor -- and the imagistic flourishes -- redeem it, allowing us to appreciate its simplistic good humor. Modern France is the setting, drenching the frames with style and a bustling, riotous sense of life. When Marie (Pascale Chrisophe) is kidnapped by a blackmailer and held for ransom, her husband attempts to humor her captor. Proving ineffectual, the husband is upstaged by the family dog, and his canine rescue pays off in unexpected ways. Yet another nod to a fetishistic interest in intimacy between animals and humans, the humor keeps the tone light, again arousing both a sense of disorientation, disgust, and awe.
Condemned as a pornographer by self-appointed culture warriors and loved by the faithful few who shared his child-like delight in human sexual expression, many critics and fans simply didn't understand either this director's stories or his style. A shame, considering he offers so much both visually and subject wise. His individualistic approach to art, combining the profane with the pornographic, also combines the philosophical with the visceral. His fetishistic fables evoke raw sensationalism with emotional urgency, finding the intimate in the universal and the cosmic in such animalistic acts as copulation. Walking a tight-rope between exploitation and sensitive characterization, Borowczyk's best work occupies its own dimension -- somewhere between scandalous smut and intellectual challenge. In any case, he is never less than enthralling, and even those who can't embrace his cinematic style or choice of content can appreciate his daring and artistic sensibility.
Awe, eroticism, passion, and humor are embraced throughout. The sexual symbolism and thematic subtext suggest the idolatry and sexual relationship implicit/suggested in the external mechanics of external behaviour on one hand, and the primal organic simplicity of the sexual act on the other . . . Or maybe this is simply avant garde smut, featuring bunny loving and doggy favors in a poetic manner as the director pours mood and style into unique compositions. Each of the three chapters merge sexual explicitness with philosophic integrity. At best, these visions challenge our current or previously gleaned perceptions about the nature of reality, ourselves, and the curious relationship between the body and the mind -- no small feat for a film where a girl who gets it on with a bunny! The sexual levels of each piece are clearly above average softcore fluff yet the sex acts are never captured with the penetration or simplicity of pornography. Style pours from every frame, and while undeniably erotic, the lush coloring schemes and framing shots -- as well as the uneasy elegance of the settings -- combine to achieve emotion, not simply erections. While the obvious focus on sex occasionally distracts from potentially more interesting themes, Borowczyk manages to depict self-satisfied humanity as nothing more or less than an animal, ruled by instinctive drive and pleasure.
Severin treats Immoral Women with the dedication one would expect a major company to lavish on Citizen Kane. Simply put, this is a gorgeous transfer from the original negative, clear and crisp with minor grain and distortions that probably originated from the film itself, not the transfer. The 16x9 enhanced video transfer sports highly defined color schemes, retaining the beauty of flesh tones and natural skies alike. A far cry from the dubs and fourth generation copies making the rounds, this version is uncensored and considerably clean. Audio is just as proficient, offered in French language with optional English subs as well as a dubbed English option! Kudos for going the extra mile in this as in so many other aspects for this significant release of one of the cinema's most original, misunderstood, yet consistently engaging poets of carnality and liberation. The soundtrack can be played in the original French with optional subtitles or a not-bad English dub track. Extras include a thorough Borowzcyk bio by Richard Harland Smith and the evocative European theatrical trailer.
Extras, while slight, are worth spending time with -- unlike many people you may know. First off is a brief, concise, and routinely informative bio by Richard Harland Smith. Getting to the skinny of the director with panache, this is a splendid introduction to the auteur. The only other extra is a trailer, that flashes by with the elegiac splendor of a dream -- fluid and invigorating!
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Severin Films|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|