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DIRECTED BY: Kuba Mikurda
FEATURING: Walerian Borowczyk, Noël Véry, Terry Gilliam, Neil Jordan, Peter Bradshaw, Slavoj Zizek, Lisbeth Hummel
PLOT: A talking heads documentary about the rise and fall of Polish director Walerian Borowczyk, who started out as an enfant terrible of Surrealism but ended up stereotyped and dismissed as a pornographer.
COMMENTS: A Polish expatriate working in his adopted France, Walerian Borowczyk began his career as an acclaimed Surrealist animator, working in both stop-motion and traditional forms. Over two decades, he produced almost two-dozen award-winning films featuring milk-drinking wigs (The House, 1958) and blue-bleeding angels (Angel’s Games, 1964). His live action debut, 1969’s dystopian parable Goto: The Island of Love, was highly anticipated and a critical success. His career took a sharp turn with Immoral Tales (1973), an arty erotic portmanteau film which was shocking for the time, but not especially surreal. Tales was a succès de scandale, but it lost Borowczyk some critical support; that erosion accelerated greatly with his followup film, the outrageous bestiality tale The Beast [La Bête] (1975). Banned all over the world, it is here that Borowczyk’s career begins to decline. He is pigeonholed, and producers only fund him if he agrees to film overtly erotic movies. Soon, he’s paired with softcore siren Sylvia Kristel for the flop The Streetwalker (1976), and his fortunes fall further. Borowczyk does manage to make a few more interesting and ambitious films in the late 70s and 80s (such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Osborne, 1981) but, in the public and the industry’s eyes, he’s just a pornographer. By 1987 he has fallen so low that he’s called on to helm Emmanuelle 5. But he’s disinterested in the project, and walks off set after he’s disrespected by top-billed scream queen Monique Gabrielle (according to the assistant director who actually completed the movie, she may have slapped him). He releases one more film, the arty Love Rites, but that’s it; Borowczyk disappears as a feature filmmaker at age 64.
The paragraph above contains all the essential information you’ll learn from Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk. There are a few juicy tidbits here and there, but the documentary is essentially an excuse for a parade of high profile cinephile fans—critic Peter Bradshaw, cinematographer Noël Véry, the always delightful Slavoj Zizek, and others—to say nice things about Borowczyk. Indeed, large parts of the movie are made in the YouTube-inspired “reaction video” genre, as directors Terry Gilliam and Neil Jordan watch clips from Borowoczyk films in real time (admittedly, Gilliam’s amused shock at The Beast‘s rape scene is priceless). It is interesting to see Lisbeth Hummel’s conflicted reminiscences about filming The Beast (unexpectedly, she seems more traumatized by the rose scene than the rape.) But overall, Love Express is merely an appreciation and celebration of Borowoczyk, as it pretty much was fated to be—because who’s going to dial up a Borowoczyk documentary other than someone who’s already a Borowoczyk fan? Pleasant enough, and, at a crisp 75 minutes, short enough to not outstay its welcome. Someday it will make a fine Blu-ray extra on a Borowoczyk box set.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“A patchy primer to the magnificently weird career of the 20th century’s foremost animator/auteur/pornographer, Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk (Love Express. Przypadek Waleriana Borowczyka) illuminates and frustrates in roughly equal measure.”–Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)