Walerian Borowczyk's Blanche.

Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk will be celebrated in an April series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Titled Obscure Pleasures: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk (April 2- 9), the program will present seldom-seen work from the controversial filmmaker on the big screen. Films including The Beast, Blanche, Goto, Island of Love, and Story of Sin are among those considered masterpieces of surrealist and erotic cinema, featuring performers such as Joe Dallesandro, Udo Kier, Sylvia Kristel, and Paloma Picasso. At the time of their release, a number of Borowczyk's films were banned in several countries.

Described by The New York Times as “an internationally known surrealist filmmaker described variously by critics as a genius, a pornographer and a genius who also happened to be a pornographer,” Walerian Borowczyk was born in Poland in 1923, and settled in France in 1959 where he did most of his work, directing 40 films. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow and concentrated on painting and lithography including the creation of posters for the cinema.

While sometimes explicit, Daniel Bird, co-curator of Obscure Pleasures: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk, noted that, taken in context, the films maligned by some in the past are not meant to be sexually arousing. “While Borowczyk’s films are often sexually explicit, they are never solely titillating, so can hardly be described as pornographic. The whole Borowczyk as pornographer only ever comes up in anglophone debates about his work. French audiences always treated his work seriously—he was championed by AndrĂ© Breton, Max Ernst, was friends with AndrĂ© Pieyre de Mandiargues, etc. In Italy, Alberto Moravia thought of Borowczyk as a cinematic heir to Boccaccio. Borowczyk’s relationship to sex is comparable to Peckinpah’s relationship to violence: it’s a theme, one which concerns us all.”

The Beast (1975) is a pitch-black comic tale about a French aristocrat’s attempts to sell off his deformed son for sex in order to save the old man’s decrepit mansion. Also included are two films that starred his wife and muse, Ligia Branice. Blanche (1971) is about a baron’s young wife who inspires the men around her to fall under her spell, while Goto, Island of Love (1968), a selection of the 1969 New York Film Festival, centers on a petty thief with the ambition to bed a dictator’s wife.

Walerian Borowczyk's The Beast.

The series also includes a sampling of documentaries on Borowczyk, directed by Daniel Bird, which reveal the life and work of Borowczyk, ranging from his early work with animation, his erotic feature films, and his artwork beyond the realm of cinema. Bird will also be on hand at selected screenings to discuss Borowczyk’s work at length.

Observed Bird to FilmLinc: “Borowczyk is largely unknown in present-day Poland. He left Poland in 1958, and lived and worked in France until his death in 2006. He made only one feature film in Poland: Story of Sin. It was a huge success with audiences, but that was 40 years ago. While his French shorts and features were screened in cine clubs, it is only comparatively recently that today's Polish audiences have been able to see his work. Blanche, for example, while based on a drama by Juliusz Slowacki, one of Poland's national poets, was never distributed in Poland during the communist period. For a long time, if he was known, it was as a rather scandalous figure. Story of Sin is based on a book by a famous Polish writer, Stefan Żeromski, which was put on the index by the Catholic Church. However, a younger generation of critics and filmmakers are in the process of discovering his work.”

Bird has also compiled a collection of Polish film posters that Borowczyk designed for other filmmakers in the 1950s, prior to his own directing career. Following on the heels of their exhibition in London's famed art and performance space The Horse Hospital in 2014, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will exhibit a dozen specially selected posters from this collection in the Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater during the run of the retrospective. The artwork was created during the communist era as an alternative to banned U.S. publicity material. 

In the cinematic space, his work combined fantasy and eroticism, tendencies in his work that became more pronounced with the relaxation of censorship. A sense of earthy humor masks a distinctly moral sensibility, eager to satirize the corruption of institutions, whether they be feudal, clerical, or bureaucratic.

Arguably the most controversial aspect of Borowczyk’s filmography is his approach to women. While his gaze is undeniably male and unashamedly voyeuristic, Borowczyk’s heroines are far from shrinking violets, often ready to toss off their corsets and use their sexuality as a means of transcending social constraints, while the men are left dithering between conflicting desires for physical gratification and public respectability.

“Borowczyk was in his element with short films,” added Bird. ” I think his early short Once Upon a Time is remarkable. It’s like the mad Polish uncle of South Park. With this film, Borowczyk, along with Jan Lenica, effectively translated what was interesting about the famed Polish posters of the '50s into cinema. What is more, he was an early pioneer of the use of electro-acoustic music in his films. He had a very fruitful working relationship with Bernard Parmegiani, for example. Borowczyk was great at tell stories through objects and details. He was a very economic filmmaker, purging every unnecessary detail from both the camera frame and final edit. Above all else, he was great at conjuring up atmosphere…”

[Obscure Pleasures: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk is co-presented with the Polish Cultural Institute New York and The Cultural Services of the French Embassy, NY.]

Walerian Borowczyk's Story of Sin.

Obscure Pleasures: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk film descriptions and schedule follow:

The Beast / La bĂŞte
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1975, DCP, 104m
French with English subtitles

Bestial dreams interrupt the venal plans of a French aristocrat attempting to save a crumbling mansion by marrying off his deformed son to a horny American heiress. Drawing on the legends surrounding the beast of Gévaudan, Prosper Mérimée’s novella Lokis and Freud’s Wolf Man, The Beast is an erotic black farce hell-bent on trampling every pretense of good taste. In The Beast, the only decorum and restraint is to be found in Scarlatti’s harpsichord music. New digital restoration.
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Friday, April 3, 5:00pm & 9:15pm

Behind Convent Walls / Interno di un convento
Walerian Borowczyk, Italy, 1977, 35mm, 95m
Italian with English subtitles

Inspired by a passage in Stendhal's Promenades dans Rome, Borowczyk's first Italian production concerns the antics of a convent full of sexually repressed nuns. Deceptively frivolous, Borowczyk's film is nevertheless a serious exploration of the relationship between flesh and spirit. Likened to Boccaccio by Alberto Moravia, Behind Convent Walls features striking handheld cinematography by Luciano Tovoli and the final performance of Borowczyk's wife, Ligia Branice.
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Sunday, April 5, 2:30pm
Monday, April 6, 7:00pm

Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1971, DCP, 92m
French with English subtitles

Borowczyk’s wife Ligia Branice gives a heartrending performances as Blanche, the young, beautiful wife to an aging, senile baron (legendary Swiss actor Michel Simon). When an amorous king pays a visit, not only does he fall under Blanche’s spell, but so does his page, the infamous philanderer Monsieur Bartolomeo. Filmed by Borowczyk to resemble a Medieval fresco, Blanche also features stunning ancient musical arrangements drawn from the Carmina Burana song book.
New digital restoration
Friday, April 3, 3:00pm and 7:00pm

A Dazzling Imagination

This program of documentaries—all directed by series co-curator Daniel Bird—sheds light on the life and sui generis career of Borowczyk, ranging from his early animations, his erotic feature films, and his artwork beyond the realm of cinema. An edifying portrait of Borowczyk not just as a pioneering animator and a wildly imaginative stylist but also as an utterly unique and versatile artist.

The Profligate Door: Borowczyk’s Sound Sculptures
Daniel Bird, UK, 2014, DCP, 13m

Blow Ups: Borowczyk’s Works on Paper
Daniel Bird, UK, 2014, DCP, 5m

Film Is Not a Sausage: Borowczyk and the Short Film
Daniel Bird, UK, 2014, DCP, 28m

Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait of Walerian Borowczyk
Daniel Bird, UK/Poland, 2013, DCP, 63m

Thursday, April 2, 4:30pm & 9:15pm

Goto, Island of Love / Goto, l’île d’amour
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1968, DCP, 93m
French with English subtitles

A petty thief works his way up the absurd hierarchy of Goto, an archipelago cut off from civilization by a tumultuous earthquake. His dream is to possess Glossia, a stifled beauty trapped in a loveless marriage to a melancholic dictator. Originally banned in Communist Poland and Franco’s Spain, Goto, Island of Love features bizarre sights, poetic flashes of color, and the stunning deployment of Handel’s organ concerto. An original selection of the 1969 NYFF. 
New digital restoration
Saturday, April 4, 3:45pm & 7:30pm

Immoral Tales / Contes immoraux
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1974, DCP, 103m
French with English subtitles

Four episodes, each rolling back further into the annals of history, bound only by a maxim by La Rochefoucauld: Love pleases more by the ways in which it shows itself. A veritable cavalcade of depravity, Immoral Tales features cosmic fellatio, transcendental masturbation, blood-drenched lesbianism, and papal incest. A box-office smash in France, the film spent much of the 1970s embroiled in censorship problems around the world. With appearances by Paloma Picasso and a 23-year-old Fabrice Luchini.
New digital restoration 
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Sunday, April 5, 4:30pm & 9:30pm

Immoral Women / Les HĂ©roĂŻnes du mal
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1979, 35mm, 109m
French with English subtitles

A film in three parts that brings together tales of women in different historical epochs who use their sexuality to triumph over the men that oppress them. In the first, set in Renaissance Rome, a baker’s daughter (Borowczyk muse Marina Pierro) models for a Vatican artist and pits him against a grotesque moneylender. The second episode charts the revenge of a Belle Époque teenager (Gaëlle Legrand) when her parents decide that her relationship with her pet bunny is too close for comfort. Finally, in modern-day Paris, a woman (Pascale Christophe) is kidnapped, and her husband proves less loyal than her beloved Doberman. Borowczyk brazenly explores motifs of bestiality, bourgeois moralism, and wanton revenge.
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Thursday, April 9, 4:45pm & 9:15pm

Love Rites / Cérémonie d’amour
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1987, 35mm, 100m
French with English subtitles

Borowczyk’s final feature returns with a vengeance to a signature theme—emasculation. Vain clothing buyer Hugo (Mathieu Carrière) meets beautiful Myriam (Marina Pierro) on the Metro and pursues her, discovering to his delight that she’s a prostitute. The crafty Myriam, of course, has more in mind for their encounter than smug Hugo bargained for. Though perhaps less graphic than Borowczyk’s best-known works, Love Rites nevertheless turns the sexual tables with perverse exactitude.
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Tuesday, April 7, 4:45pm
Wednesday, April 8, 7:00pm

Walerian Borowczyk, France/Italy/Germany, 1980, 35mm, 95m
French with English subtitles

Based on the Lulu plays by Frank Wedekind (which formed the basis for G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box), Borowczyk presents a terse, stripped-back account of the eponymous anti-heroine. Filmed in a series of stylized sets designed by the director himself, Lulu is as cool as an erotic fantasy played out inside a doll’s house. Anne Bennent puts her stamp on the role immortalized by Louise Brooks, and Udo Kier memorably turns up as Jack the Ripper.
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Tuesday, April 7, 9:15pm
Thursday, April 9, 7:00pm

Private Collections / Collections privées
Walerian Borowczyk, Just Jaeckin & Shuji Terayama, France/Japan, 1978, 35mm, 100m
English, French, and Japanese with English subtitles

This portmanteau film curated by legendary French director Pierre Braunberger, featuring segments by some of the top erotic filmmakers of the 1970s, includes Borowczyk’s “L’armoire,” an adaptation of “The Wardrobe” by Guy de Maupassant. His account of a depressed young man and the dancer/courtesan he hopes will cure his loneliness exhibits psychological insight along with the director’s standard visual flair and signature touches of depravity.
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Wednesday, April 8, 4:45pm & 9:15pm

Borowczyk’s Immoral Women.

Short Films
This program showcases a key section of Borowczyk’s career: his innovative animated short films, which are formally radical, conceptually surreal, and arguably his most influential work.

Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1963, 9m

Borowczyk’s signature work, Renaissance features wrecked handmade objects gradually reconstructing themselves into a still-life composition before exploding once more. Dedicated to Hy Hirsh (the American photographer, cameraman, and abstract filmmaker who died prematurely of a heart attack in 1961), the objects (which include a doll, a stuffed owl, and a trumpet) in Renaissance serve as a concentrated microcosm of a larger, off-screen drama. A frequently humorous and sometimes ominous soundtrack (not to mention a brief flash of color) makes Renaissance one of Borowczyk’s most perfect films.

The Astronauts / Les astronauts
Walerian Borowczyk & Chris Marker, France, 1959, 12m

Borowczyk’s first professional film outside of Poland, The Astronauts takes the manipulated photograph technique of The School to dizzying new heights. The first of several Borowczyk films produced by Anatole Dauman, The Astronauts is credited as being co-directed by the late, legendary cine-essayist Chris Marker. According to Marker, his main contribution to Borowczyk’s film was the loan of his owl, Anabase. Fellow animator and sometime Borowczyk collaborator Michel Boschet plays the lead role in a film that invokes the wonder of Georges Méliès and the slapstick of Buster Keaton.

House / Dom
Walerian Borowczyk & Jan Lenica, Poland, 1959, 11m

A young woman inside a house succumbs to a succession of daydreams, fantasies, and nightmares. Arguably Borowczyk and Lenica’s masterpiece, House served as Borowczyk and Lenica’s ticket to the West. The result is a veritable compendium of animation techniques, which both look back at the European avant-garde of the 1920s (Cocteau, Richter, Ray, Ernst, Calder, Duchamp, etc.) while paving the way for the likes of latter-day Czech surrealist Jan Ĺ vankmajer. It also features a remarkable electro-acoustic soundtrack by Włodzimierz Kotoński.

Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1966, 15m
French with English subtitles

Of all his films, Borowczyk’s favorite was Rosalie. Based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant, Borowczyk relates the plight of a servant girl who killed and buried her child in the garden. Featuring a profoundly touching performance by Ligia Branice, once again Borowczyk uses animated objects to relate action indirectly. An overexposed, chiaroscuro image gives the proceedings an ethereal quality halfway between one of Beckett’s monologues and David Lynch’s Eraserhead.

Diptych / Diptyque
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1967, 12m
French with English subtitles

Diptych stands in many ways as the cornerstone of Borowczyk’s inimitable approach to cinema. Here, he presents two seemingly distinct “panels.” In the first, we see an old farmer, accompanied by his knackered dog, riding a clapped-out jalopy back home. Shot handheld with direct sound in grainy black and white, it makes a stark contrast to the second panel, which features a succession of tableaux vivants in startling colors, featuring houseplants and kittens playing against an aria from Bizet’s Carmen. While total opposites both in terms of form and style, the two panels nevertheless constitute a unified whole.

A Private Collection / Une collection particulière
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1973, 12m
French with English subtitles

A Private Collection is not just a documentary on antiquated erotic paraphernalia but rather a description and reflection on predominantly Western sexual mores. Featuring both a commentary and the guiding hands of surrealist writer André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Borowczyk playfully switches between visual media: perverted sculpture, clandestine painting, Belle Époque photography, a magic lantern show, a cartoon, and archival film.

Joachim’s Dictionary / Le dictionnaire de Joachim
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1965, 9m

Based on a sparse, singular design by Laurence Demaria (Ligia Branice), Joachim defines 26 words, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. As with, Grandma’s Encyclopedia, Borowczyk offers a succession of visual definitions that suggest a doomed attempt at mastering the absurdities of the world. Frequently hilarious, Joachim’s Dictionary is Borowczyk at his most anarchic.

Once Upon a Time / Byl sobie raz
Walerian Borowczyk & Jan Lenica, Poland, 1957, 9m

While not the first cut-out animation, this is without a doubt one of the most innovative. In effect, Borowczyk and Lenica transformed the economy, wit, and intelligence of the Polish poster into cinema. It is also notable for a groundbreaking electro-acoustic soundtrack courtesy of the Experimental Studio of Polish Radio.

Walerian Borowczyk's The Astronauts.

Requited Sentiments / Nagrodzone uczucie
Walerian Borowczyk & Jan Lenica, Poland, 1957, 8m

Borowczyk and Lenica’s second collaboration is a politically correct romance told through the paintings of Jan Płaskociński. Playful, witty, and ironic, Requited Sentiments is augmented by a rousing score courtesy of the Warsaw Gasworks Brass Orchestra.

Angels’ Games / Les Jeux des Anges
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1964, 12m

A brutal, chilling, and frequently erotic evocation of concentration-camp horror, named by Terry Gilliam as one of the 10 greatest animated films of all time.
Tuesday, April 7, 7:00pm

Story of Sin / Dzieje grzechu
Walerian Borowczyk, Poland, 1975, 35mm, 124m
Polish with English subtitles

Based on the novel by Stefan Żeromski, Story of Sin is Borowczyk’s singular Polish feature film. Grażyna Długołęcka plays Ewa Pobratyńska, the doomed heroine whose passion for a married anthropology student takes her on a perilous journey across early 20th-century Europe. Casting a critical eye on the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, Story of Sin counts as Borowczyk’s most passionate film, a delirious melodrama that reaches an ecstatic pitch. Nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Sunday, April 5, 6:45pm
Monday, April 6, 9:00pm

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne / Docteur Jekyll et les femmes
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1981, DCP, 95m
French with English subtitles

Taking its cue from the legend that Robert Louis Stevenson’s cocaine-fueled first draft of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was burned by his prudish American wife on account of its sexual excess, Borowczyk sets up a chamber piece spanning just one night, in which Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) plunges into a bath of chemicals only for him to emerge as the monstrously endowed Mr. Hyde. A masterpiece of surrealist cinema, Borowczyk’s film mischievously flits between violent farce, bloody delirium, and erotic frenzy.
New digital restoration 
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Thursday, April 2, 2:45pm & 7:00pm

The Streetwalker / La Marge
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1976, 35mm, 95m
French with English subtitles

An uptight salesman loses himself in the arms of an ethereal prostitute in a headlong rush toward the end of the night. Featuring Sylvia Kristel’s best performance and a stoic turn by Warhol favorite Joe Dallesandro, Borowczyk’s most atypical offering rivals Taxi Driver in terms of rendering urban life as a seedy inferno. The film’s eclectic soundtrack includes 10cc, Chopin, Elton John, and Pink Floyd.
Note: contains explicit sexual content.
Saturday, April 4, 9:30pm

Theatre of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal / Théâtre de Monsieur & Madame Kabal
Walerian Borowczyk, France, 1967, DCP, 73m
French with English subtitles

Bizarre, grotesque, and yet strangely moving, Borowczyk’s existential soap opera eschews dialogue (for the most part) and conventional narrative to evoke the highs and lows of married life. Set in a barren wasteland thinly populated by exotic flora and fauna, Borowczyk’s only animated feature (rendered in sparse, coarse, and, for the most part, monochrome graphics) serves as a stiff antidote to Disney’s saccharine whimsy.
New digital restoration
Saturday, April 4, 2:00pm & 5:45pm