Cited as the single greatest influence on the surreal comic animation of director Terry Gilliam, the cinema of Polish avant garde animator turned pornographic provocateur Walerian Boroczyk consists of a diverse library of films that for the most part have remained undiscovered by international cinephiles until just recently thanks to the dedicated efforts of Arrow Video and Gilliam who have been resurrecting his long thought lost works.
Still a divisive surrealist treading a fine line between the experimental avant-garde short films from the 1920s and 30s and mere pure sexploitation, Borowczyk’s work continues to polarize and defy easy categorization. In the same year the director’s most controversial film The Beast, an X rated fantasy bestiality take on Beauty and the Beast, the electrically charged filmmaker would direct arguably one of his tamer and more accessible works in his oeuvre: Story of Sin.
Loosely based on the novel by Stefan Zeromski, Story of Sin sets its sights on Nineteenth Century Poland regarding a young woman named Ewa (Grazyna Dlugolecka) who falls madly in love with a lodger named Lukasz Niepolomski (Jerzy Zelnik) before embarking on her own tumultuous journey of sexual awakening and self-discovery. Somewhere between the handsomely austere visual scheme of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the observant social criticism in Far from the Madding Crowd and the tawdry perversity of Luis Bunuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid, Story of Sin thrusts viewers deep into the shaky moral compass of Ewa and all the various detours and sexual misadventures she encounters.
An elegantly photographed, directed and edited piece aided by handsome costume design and the director’s own stock trade of classical music, Story of Sin reminded me most of Sion Sono’s fetishistic Guilty of Romance for how it depicts from the female perspective an ordinary woman’s descent into sexploitation in her futile pursuits of happiness. While the story of a woman’s romantic longings are hardly revolutionary, the social context it takes place in is far from simple with many complications along the way for our heroine and conundrums for the viewer to deal with. One area which struck me involved Borowczyk’s use of close-ups, particularly the eyes. Watch for when Ewa trades gazes with Lukasz and tell me Scorsese and Aronofsky weren’t influenced on some level by the visual motif.
|You've got the eyes of a stranger.|
Far from his richest but the most indicative of the signature motifs that would define Borowczyk’s work, Story of Sin coupled with his classic animated film Jeux des anges represent strong introductory chapters to one of Poland’s most underappreciated and clandestine auteurs since the rediscovery of Andrzej Zulawski. Not for all tastes as some will inevitably be put off by the carnal exploitation with some films more sexually explicit than others, Walerian Borowczyk is clearly a neglected, wholly idiosyncratic visual artist whose films are only now getting the attention they so deserve.
- Andrew Kotwicki