Unsung Visions from a Softcore Surrealist


Walerian Borowczyk, master Polish animator turned softcore surrealist, we barely knew ye. Dead at 82 last month, Borowczyk was widely considered an international master (he warranted a 1981 entry in David Thomson’s infamously insulated Biographical Dictionary of Film, when Chantal Akerman, Mikhail Kalatozov, Mikio Naruse, and Stan Brakhage did not) but was rarely screened, and few media mouths in the English- speaking world knew enough to sing him an elegy. Truth be told, he was never an easily digestible figure, and the later (and most easily found) live-action films were overtaken with a witty salaciousness that seems risibly dated today. But he is always mentioned as an influence on the Brothers Quay, even if his earlier postwar shorts—like Les Astronautes (1959), co-directed with Chris Marker and the sole sample of the filmmaker’s earlier stop-motion work in this box set—were the obvious source-well for Terry Gilliam’s subsequent achievements with archival images, 2-D movement, and perspectival gaggery. The box otherwise contains Borowczyk’s first feature, Goto, Island of Love (1969), an absurd and free-associative parable (starring the ethereal Mrs. Borowczyk, Ligia Branice, star of Marker’s La Jetée, later remade by Gilliam!) about a fascist royal government on a secluded island that dissolves due to lust and betrayal. Composed flatly in an ancient factory like a tabletop animation but peopled by humans, Goto may’ve presaged the Quays’ Institute Benjamenta in style and Gilliam’s Brazil in thrust. Also included are The Beast (1975), which explodes out a Grimm-style black-forest legend-cycle of maidens and horny beasts with an endless parade of faux phalluses and monstrous ejaculations, and Love Rites (1988), Borowczyk’s final film and a modern tale of lusty obsession (starring Mathieu Carriére) that comes in two lengths (“director’s” and “complete”). Trailers, essays, postcards.