The Story of Sin
directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Starring Grazyna Dlugolecka, Jerzy Zelnik, Olgierd Lukaszewicz
We begin with confession: Ewa (Dlugolecka) tells the priest of a minor peccadillo, he hands out a reasonable penance, and Ewa begins her slide into perdition. It’s 1890 something and Poland is part of Russia, yet completely Catholic. Ewa’s home is prim and middle class but they take in boarders to make ends meet. A terribly handsome man arrives; he’s in town to seek a divorce, a nearly impossible task in this impossibly Catholic world. The two have an affair, she has a child, he leaves and she drowns the baby. Ewa now drifts through France and Italy; still her great sin demands great punishment. But her life now drifts to casual and more expensive love affairs; Ewa is now a high grade courtesan. She lives in resorts, dresses with the best, and continues to live the emptiness she felt at home. Eventually she becomes Parisian prostitute with an impossible lace corset; her clientele is a little sleazier, but they still occasionally try to reform her, not that she’s looking for that. Random casual sex is SO much nicer in a Catholic world.
Borowczyk treats his characters with more pity than her society would, but he also has his way with her. The use of explicit sexuality and explicit action to tell his story yet this film succeeds in presenting sex in an anti-erotic form. Ewa enjoys the act, but attaches nothing more to it than temporary fun. Any sense of holiness or long term commitment is absent as she completely decouples herself from any emotional enjoyment. Its money and thrusting, the chocolates and roses are all temporary distractions from her higher calling of mutual orgasm. What is shocking, or should be to anyone with a puritan / catholic upbringing is her lack of remorse. Nothing she sees creates any short term guilt. Not even the sordid death of her offspring generates more than a temporary sadness. Borowczyk exclaims: “Do it or don’t do it. But don’t think it means anything in the long run unless you make your daily bread on your bed,” Borowczyk neither judges nor sanctifies, yet here we see a strong, independent woman who makes it on her own in a world stacked against that option, and she relishes the freedom. The title call this The Story of Sin but here the film seems more like The Story of Equality.