Cinema of Desire | Dadaist, sensualist and master artist Walerian Borowczyk gets a major UK retrospective


This month, BFI Southbank joins forces with the 12th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival to launch the first major UK retrospective of the controversial artist, Walerian Borowczyk, featuring a season of films, shorts and talks. The ICA in London is also hosting the first exhibition of Borowczyk’s artwork, along with some film shorts, and Arrow Films will release the restored prints of most of his films in a DVD box set: Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection (released 30 June).

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Walerian BorowczykWalerian Borowczyk (1923 – 2006) trained as a painter and sculptor at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, before establishing himself first as a poster artist in the 1950s and later as an animator and filmmaker. He relocated to France in 1959, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life, and produced a succession of startling, often comic short films, leading to his first feature films: The Theatre of Mr & Mrs Kabal (1967) and Goto, Island of Love (1968). The latter starred his wife and muse, Ligia Branice as the wife of a bloodthirsty dictator. This film was banned in both Communist Poland and Spain, but, elsewhere, it inspired a generation of artists including Terry Gilliam, The Quay Brothers and Angela Carter.

Courting controversy even further, he followed with the medieval drama about a young, beautiful woman married to a senile baron played by Michel Simon, in Blanche (1971), and then the sexually explicit satire Immoral Tales (1974) which caused a box office sensation in France, but spent most of the 70s embroiled in censorship battles around the world. Borowczyk depicted fantasy, eroticism and sexually voyeuristic stories that became more pronounced with the relaxation of censorship and challenged taboos. The intriguingly titled A Story of Sin (1975) cast a critical eye on the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, thus adding to the filmmaker’s infamy and reputation as an agent provocateur.

Cinema of Desire | The Films of Walerian Borowczyk

While some of his critics saw Borowczyk as a maker of ‘sex films’, he denied this, and his supporters viewed him as one of the finest filmmakers to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain. Yet his depictions of sex on screen certainly defy conventions. In The Margin (1976), an uptight salesman (Joe Dellasandro) succumbs to the demands of an alluring prostitute (Sylvia Kristel) against a seedy Parisienne backdrop. But when consigned to the underground circles of cinema in the early 80s, he created a masterpiece of surrealist cinema with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981).

The BFI Southbank retrospective is presented as part of the 12th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, and in conjunction with the ICA exhibition Walerian Borowczyk: The Listening Eye (20 May-29 June).

For more details, check out the official website:


About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on May 6, 2014, in Avant Garde, Cult classic, Must-See, World Cinema and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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