After 13. edition
Festival Spotlight
23 July 2013
Festival Spotlight - The Final Cut

The Final Cut – Walerian Borowczyk, Immoral Tales and the Censor

Blurring the line between art and pornography, Walerian Borowczyk was always destined to court the scrutiny of film censors. The eroticism of his early work, championed by critics and feted at festivals, developed into more explicit imagery as western societies' attitude to sexuality and its representation became more relaxed. Things finally came to a head with the release of Immoral Tales in 1974. A huge success with audiences in France, where the majority of the director's films were produced, its four tales of debauchery and excess proved too much for authorities and extensive cuts were made. New Horizons offers audiences a rare opportunity to see the original uncut version of the film.

Like much of Borowczyk's work, a number of the stories are based on literary sources, although each is ultimately the result of the director's own preoccupations and imagination. In the first segment Fabrice Luchini's André is entranced by his 16-year-old cousin Julie (Lisa Danvers) whom he takes to the beach in order for her to fellate him to the rhythm of the sea. It is based on the writings of André Pieyre de Mandiargues, whose 1967 novel 'The Margin' would be adapted by Borowczyk in 1976. The second tale, 'Thérése Philosophe' finds Charlotte Alexandra's teenage girl obsessing over Christ with the aid of a cucumber. The story is loosely taken from the 18th century pornographic novel whose author is uncertain, but believed to be the outspoken anti-Catholic and scourge of the Inquisition, Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens. The poet Valentine's Penrose's account of the debauched 17th century countess and mass serial killer of young girls, Elizabeth Báthory, played here by Paloma Picasso, is the third story. And finally, there is the tale of Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who engages in sex with her family members.

Its success with French audiences notwithstanding, Immoral Tales is viewed as one of the director's less focused works, paling against Blanche (1972) and The Beast (1975), which bookend it. But for completists, the opportunity to see Immoral Tales in its original version will be a major draw.

However, from the many versions of the film that exist, it is possible to surmise that Borowczyk was fully aware of the problems he would run up against over the film's content and may have shot additional or alternative footage for a number of different versions. So, for instance, although there is general acceptance that the actual scenes of bestiality have been cut - a recent German Blu-Ray version of the film has re-inserted them, albeit with specific shots pixelated - a few other explicit sequences find parts of a shot obscured by fingers over the lens. These seem more of a decision to hide certain images than poor camerawork on the part of the crew.

At 115 minutes, this is likely to be the longest version of Immoral Tales available to cinema audiences. (The running time of the censored film, also showing here, is 103 minutes. The UK DVD version has been pruned even further, to 99 minutes.) Those who do see this screening will have the chance to hear the retrospective's curators contextualise the film in terms of Borowczyk's career and its place as a singular and controversial cultural artifact.

Ian Haydn Smith

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