by Jason Suzuki
Depending on which version you watch Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales contains 4 or 5 stories, each one focusing on some sort of debauchery realized and each one set further back in time than the one before. With each story, Borowczyk posits that not only has this sort of thing been going down throughout the ages, but he links it with the bourgeois and royalty. Some are based on stories like Therese the Philospher and others are based on real individuals like Elizabeth Bathory and Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI.
Apart from the first story, a rather tame and slogging introduction save for a handful of enticing visuals, the other four shorts are largely dialogue free, suggesting that back then people spent less time talking and more time actually doing it. This is in direct contrast to the way the guy in the first tale needs to trick his younger cousin into giving him head on the beach, through the use of constant talking. Probably the most interesting aspect of the film, or at least the one that brings on the most thought for me personally, is the title. The title, and its judgement of the tales, is at odds with the camera, which probes the body, usually female, with an intense fascination. Sure with the Borgia tale there is a definite criticism of religious hypocrisy, but with the second tale the title takes on a tongue in cheek tone as the woman is punished for innocent, and private, sexuality. It is definitely possible the camera is there to recreate the experience of the characters, reducing any authorial/judgmental aspects to a minimum.
The extras on the US version are not the same as though on the one Arrow released in the UK. We lose some things (one of which appears on their release of The Beast in the states) and gain one from another UK disc. From the UK disc of Blanche we get Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait of Walerian Borowcyzk, an hour-long interview with the filmmaker discussing cinema, animation, and of course, sex. The most interesting aspect to this interview is how Borowczyk handles the questions of whether his films are erotic, if that is his only focus, and whether or not he is perverted. He does take a rather easy road, stating that he considers Disney more erotic and that he is just giving the people what they want, which is inherently perverted. Still, with a work like this, it’s great to hear from the director himself, even if the answers aren’t as clear as wanted. I also loved the extra with cameraman Noel Very in which he shows off the camera rig he developed for the handheld shots in the film.
One of these tales, the third one cut for the international release, was turned into the feature length film The Beast (1975), which I liked much more thanks to it being more developed than the tales seen here. As they are, they are a series of films almost structured like jokes, which is a typical sort of thing with a short film, the punchlines being some sort of reversal for the lead character. And of course, it is an uneven watch but one still worth embarking on. Arrow Video have given us in the states more of their fantastic presentations of the films of Walerian Borowczyk. This film in particular you notice the other-worldly qualities of the visuals because of the thin narratives.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.