jahsonic.com - [Next >>]

Walerian Borowczyk (1923 - )

Lifespan: 1923 -

Related: Poland - European exploitation - European cinema - film posters - director

Personal and professional relationships: Anatole Dauman - Andre Preyre de Mandiargues

Films: Immoral Tales (1974) - The Beast (1975) - Hyper Erotic Art: Hayashi

When I was in my early twenties, I found a movie by Walerian Borowczyk (1980, Hyper Erotic Art: Hayashi), consisting of the a camera panning over the work of Yoshifumi Hayashi, accompanied by classical music. This was my first encounter with Borowczyk's work.

Sirpa Lane in
The Beast (La bête) (1975) - Walerian Borowczyk [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The work of Walerian Borowczyk is perhaps not as well known as that of directors he is often said to have influenced or to be a contemporary of: Svankmajer, Oshima, Terry Gilliam and The Brothers Quay. This is at least partly due to the fact that after an extremely successful career as a maker of bizarre animated short films and a number of distinctive live action features, Borowczyk's work became gradually more and more interested in cinema's potential for the erotic. In this article, I intend to discuss Borowczyk as an underrated director of live action features (it seems he is still quite highly regarded in animation circles) as his films are undiscovered territory to most modern cinephiles who were not around in his early '70s critical heyday. -- Joe Ruffell, Senses of Cinema, December 2001 [1]


Walerian Borowczyk (born 2 September 1923 at Kwilicz, near Poznan) is a Polish film director. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, then devoted himself to painting and lithography, including the creation of posters for the cinema. In 1959 he settled in Paris.

He directed 40 films between 1946 and 1988.

His early films were surreal animations, some only a few seconds long, including several comic abecedaria. 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.

Borowczyk moved into live-action feature film with 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. His later work, including The Beast (1975), Immoral Tales (1974) and Rites of Love (1988) has been controversial, lauded by some for its unique surrealist vision and derided by others as contentless pornography. In 1981 he made Docteur Jekyll et les femmes, known in English as 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, (ISBN 0517573660) Kim Newman described the film as "dark, misanthropic and interestingly offensive".

Many of Borowczyk's films use historical settings, including 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 Immoral Tales, set respectively in the nineteenth century, the sixteenth century and the Borgia papacy.

A number of his films (Immoral Tales and the 1976 La Marge) were based on stories by André Pieyre de Mandiargues. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walerian_Borowczyk [Jun 2005]


Borowczyk studied fine art and worked in lithography and poster design before turning to animation. His first films, made with Jan Lenica, revealed a bizarre and dark vision with a satirical edge influenced by surrealism. The success of Dom / House (1958) launched his European career and in 1959 Borowczyk moved to France. Here his macabre wit came to the fore in films like Renaissance (1963). Switching to live action, Borowczyk made impressively original features, especially Goto, l'île d'amour / Goto, Isle of Love (1969) and Blanche (1961). Films such as Contes immoraux / Immoral Tales (1974) and La Bête / The Beast (1975) established Borowczyk as something of an "eroticist," but subsequent features moved to sexploitation, using material largely unworthy of his talents.-— Ania Witkowska, Encylopedia of European Cinema

Objects Of Desire: Borowczyk On Video

Walerian Borowczyk (born in Kwilcz, Poland, 1923) is a classic case of the film-maker who fell from grace with the critics. A once prestigious arthouse reputation for prize-winning animations from the late 40s to the late 60s (not yet available on video) and a few early features, is now confined to brief entries in film encyclopedias or difficult-to-trace articles in obscure journals. Still no book on Borowczyk written in English, to my knowledge; and screening of his films in British cinemas, still infrequent. The chapter in Tohill's and Tombs' Immoral Tales is a rare sign of recent British interest; that several of his live-action features have been released on video in the UK over the last few years is little short of miraculous. --Chris Blackford, http://www.btinternet.com/~rubberneck/borowcz.html, Feb 2004

Behind Convent Walls/Within A Cloister (1977) - Walerian Borowczyk

Interno di un Convento is based on 'Promenades Romanes', a story by renowned 19th century French author Stendhal. Distribution company Redemption take the easy way out by describing this tale of rampant female sexuality inside a convent as "nunsploitation with style", thereby denying any seriousness of intent on the part of director Walerian Borowczyk. An early kitchen scene featuring the butcher and a few of the young nuns is spiced with sufficient silly innuendos to launch a 'Carry On In The Convent' caper, but the concern for ecclesiastical detail in the convent's furnishings makes one suspect that Borowczyk's intentions are not entirely lighthearted.

Ligia Branice (Borowczyk's wife), who plays Sister Clara the niece of the tyrannical Mother Superior, reminds the latter that she has entered the convent because of a spiritual calling, unlike most of the other young nuns who are there on the orders of their parents, a common method of recruitment in past ages. This important detail establishes a serious subtext to the farcical aspects of the narrative, implying that the release of repressed sexual energy, particularly through masturbation (a dildo lovingly carved from a stray block of wood with a fragment of window pane, and a violin, are among the most ingenious aids), is as much an expression of individual resistance to a totalitarian regime as an act of private auto-eroticism.

Seen in this light, one finds Borowczyk - not for the first time - placing female sexuality in subversive opposition to patriarchal order, in this case Christianity. In his earlier Blanche (1971) we see imprisoned female sexuality, represented by the innocent beauty of Blanche, inflaming male passions and jealousies, and generally causing havoc inside a medieval court; while in Interno di un Convento imprisoned female sexuality presents a more proactive threat to the established order. By the latter stages of the film, even Sister Clara has succumbed to the temptations of the flesh, her secret affair with the local priest's nephew is initially a combination of both religious and sexual ecstasy - the purely sexual is triumphant by the end of their feverish lovemaking. When the Mother Superior is poisoned, hysteria breaks out. As the body count rises so farce becomes tragedy, but as so often happens in this film the transition is perhaps too jarring to be effectively poignant. There's a tragic undercurrent here, manifest in the young nuns' desperate defiance of an emotionally crippling regime where privacy is non-existent, yet it's frequently obscured by clumsy farce. Although the religious farce is rarely as sophisticated as Buñuel's (the stigmata sequence is amusing but a bit obvious), or the emotional intensity of the performances as persuasive as those in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus, like Ken Russell's The Devils, Borowczyk's Interno di un Convento is certainly much more than merely an irreverent romp. --Chris Blackford http://www.btinternet.com/~rubberneck/borowcz.html [Jun 2004]

The games of Angels/Les Jeux des Anges (1964) - Walerian Borowczyk

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. Ironically described as a "reportage in the city of the angels", the surrealist- expressionist images (reminiscent of both Di Chirico and Beckmann) take the unwilling spectator on a journey through a nightmarish world of metaphysical terror. There are oppressive cells with ominous wall openings and pipes, indistinct torture instruments, misshapen torsos locked in brutal, endless struggle, executions, rivers of blood running in false colors. A unique and original work that aims at changing the viewer's consciousness by transporting him into an obsessively imaged recreation of what it must have been like. --from the book Film As a Subversive Art (1974) - Amos Vogel

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058246/ [Jan 2005]

Jan Lenica

News just in from Mondo Erotico's Borowczyk correspondent, Daniel Bird: Jan Lenica, Borowczyk's early collaborator, died last Friday night (5 October 2001). For the last four years he was working on a feature length animation. Daniel is currently looking into what state it is in.

Lenica worked on many early animations with Borowczyk, and is famous for his fantastic poster designs. Find out more about Lenica by following this link.

Literary influences

Susan Adler: 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 . . .

Walerian Borowczyk: If I do a film based on literature on an original story by someone else, what does it matter? Cinema isn't literature; cinema is appearances and, clearly, my way of telling a story isn't the same as the way a writer tells a story. For me movement is creation. It is a pity I can't make films that are completely abstract: after all, people like to watch fireworks displays and sporting events. It is a pity that films haven't taken off in that direction as well. --http://www.vidmarc.demon.co.uk/mondo-erotico/borowczyk/interviews/Cinema_Papers.html [Apr 2005]

Cérémonie d'amour / Love Rites (1988) - Walerian Borowczyk

Cérémonie d'amour, Love Rites (1988) - Walerian Borowczyk [Amazon UK]

see also: Walerian Borowczyk

your Amazon recommendations - Jahsonic - early adopter products

Managed Hosting by NG Communications