directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Back when I was figuring out why girls existed, rumors filled the playground about “French” films. They didn’t show at the regular movie houses we attended, but maybe in that mysterious place called “Downtown” daddy might find one. Anyway they must play way later than my bed time. In college I saw a few of them; sometimes in French, sometimes Italian; but there they were: naked body parts. In action. The movies always felt cheap and a bit naughty, but they were what you were looking for in a culture where sex education was the biology teacher asking “Anyone have any questions about sex? No? Good. Now we will discuss phototropism…” But THIS movie, this collection of 5 short films, shows what I heard of but never saw: a movie about sex that is both artistic AND erotic. This 1974 flick is the movie that justifies all rationalizations for XXX films anything above pornography for pornography’s sake.
There are five segment here; they run progressive roughly backward in time. Explanatory text in French enlightens, so long as you turn on subtitles. “The Tide” offers up the story of a snotty young man (Fabrice Luchini) and his cousin (Lise Danvers) as they bicycle along the Britany seacoast. They stop to hike far along the shore to a point where only one rock will not be under the rough sea at high tide. They engage in what might be a consensual relation; she learns about both sex and her cousin’s theory of the tides, he brags of his skill in whorehouses. Next we enjoy “Therese”. Here a young woman (Charlotte Alexandra) is locked in her room by an evil stepmother. All she had to eat are some cucumbers; her only reading material is her missal and a forgotten book of erotic wood cuts. Locking a girl in a ground floor room isn’t all that effective at keeping her pure.
The next segment “Erzsebet Bathor” looks at the legendary murderess Elizabeth Bathorey (Paloma Picasso) and her hobby of bathing in the blood of virgins. I assume all these naked girls are of age; there’s a surprisingly modern shower scene and camera that lovingly dwell on the naughty bits. Bathory’s page Istvan (Pascale Christophe) may be creepier than the actual bathing in blood scene. “Lucrezia Borgia”(Florence Bellamy) introduces the daughter to Pope Pope Alexander VI (Jacopo Berinizi); here they have a threesome with her brother (Lorenzo Berinizi). Who knew the father of the church was into group sex? Real shocker there… Lastly there’s there’s more comic “The True Story of the Beast of Gevaudan” or as called out on the disc: “La Bête”. Here a sophisticated woman is chased by a hard to see beast; as she flees she loses all her clothes. All is well until we see the beast; it rapes her and she succumbs. Its heavy handed look at seduction, and a bit disturbing. It also has a Monty Python element, and who can say which way the influences run.
All of this is interesting and coolly erotic, so we must turn to the special features. This is an hour-long interview with Director Borowczyk. We see his animations (not bad, not great) and hear his theories on filmmaking as art. And then he gets jumped; the interviewer corners him and now rather than sitting comfortably he’s on his feet, defending himself against the charge “Aren’t you just one big old pervert?” He collapses, then spouts some blather about the people who view his works and enjoy them, and now the interviewer tosses him aside. It’s a hatchet job of an interview, worthy of Fox or CNN, and Borowczyk ends up looking like what his accusers accuse him of. But Borowczyk has a point: humans are fascinated by sex, willingly or unwillingly engage in it often; they talk about it, peek at it in checkout lines and beauty contests and rent it on Blu-Ray and VHS. Borowczyk isn’t particularly explicit, and he is miles above the tropes of “I don’t know HOW I’ll pay for this pizza?” porn. Rather it’s an honest look at sexuality as you hope to practice it, and these no cheesy 70’s moustache sound track.