Sunday, April 21, 2024

Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk, on

Walerian Borowczyk could have been another Roman Polanski. The acclaimed Polish filmmaker came to Paris looking for artistic freedom and found free love instead. The Sexual Revolution devoured many of its children, including Borowczyk’s career. The controversial auteur’s admirers look back on his inconsistent body of work in Kuba Mirkuda’s documentary, Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk, which premieres Tuesday on

Initially, Borowczyk was considered a fresh, new star of the avant-garde, thanks to films like
Goto: Island of Love and Blanche. The boldly “transgressive” Immoral Tales was probably his biggest hit and masterwork, but it was a double-edged sword, pigeon-holing Borowczyk with producers and critics. During the years that followed, Borowczyk could only secure funding for sexually-themed films. If he did not shoot enough sex scenes, they would commission some of their own and splice them in.

Despite the nature of Borowczyk’s output,
Love Express is not a naughty film, per se. It is more of a chronicle of artistic frustration. The title itself is taken from the film-within-the film of Emmanuelle 5, which was the only scene Borowczyk actually directed before walking off the shoot in a rage. As you might expect, the softcore sequel was definitely a career low-point.

To their credit, Mirkuda and company are refreshingly honest in their appraisals of Borowczyk’s films. In fact, they are quite harsh on
The Beast, despite its relative success. He assembles an impressive cast of commentators, including Bertrand Bonello, Neil Jordan, Patrice Leconte (an assistant director on Blanche), Mark Cousins, and the late, great Andrzej Wajda, who knew Borowczyk way back in Polish art school.

Perhaps some of the best commentary comes from Terry Gilliam, who was clearly inspired by Borowczyk’s highly textured early animated shorts. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine the avant-garde Borowczyk operating under the Communist state film authorities, so it is frustrating Mirkuda glosses over his early years in Poland.

Mirkuda often incorporates animated design elements to liven up his talking head shots. It is an unusually slick looking documentary, especially compared the frequently grungy-looking scenes excerpted from Borowczyk’s films. Yet, nobody precisely spells out the irony that Borowczyk’s embrace of sexual liberation curtailed the artistic freedom he yearned for.

Regardless, Borowczyk’s admirers take the good with the bad throughout the documentary, accepting each of his films for what they are, instead of trying to inflate them into something more. Plenty of other cinema docs should have been so honest. Recommended as a candid look and an interestingly flawed auteur,
Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk starts streaming Tuesday (4/23) on