Borowczyk's documentary biography portrays him as an exceptional artist and a victim of life's paradoxes. Love Express is a film born out of cinephilic passion, and is an impressive yet incomplete portrait. The film was co-produced by Culture.pl
‘I've seen many of your films and I think you're a pervert!’
‘And who isn't? […] I show what all people dream of’.
These words said during a French interview open Kuba Mikurda's story about Walerian Borowczyk. In Love Express the young director reconstructs the artist's path from his studies at Kraków Academy, through his first animations with Jan Lenica and his crowning achievements – Goto: Island of Love, The Beast, and The Story of Sin – and up until Emmanuelle 5, the sad culmination of Borowczyk's film career.
Love Express: Przypadek Waleriana Borowczyka
In a 2017 interview with Wirtualna Polska's Łukasz Knap, Mikurda said:
Borowczyk has to be introduced to the Polish audience. The majority of his work has never gone into distribution, neither in cinemas nor on DVD – thus the film is an introduction rather than a reminiscence.
Borowczyk, as seen through Mikurda’s eyes, turns out to be a human -paradox. One of the most popular Polish artists in the West remains almost unknown to his home audience. The man who never allowed himself to be typecast became one of the 20th century’s most pigeon-holed Polish filmmakers.
Mikurda, together with the co-screenwriter Marcin Kubawski, gives Borowczyk’s story a strong dramaturgic structure. Its acts are determined by the director's subsequent achievements. Comments on his work are delivered by the artist's fans, collaborators and researchers: Noël Véry, the cinematographer of five of his films, as well as Neil Jordan, Terry Gilliam, Patrice Leconte, Andrzej Wajda, Peter Bradshaw, and Slavoj Žižek, among others.
The Paradoxes of Freedom
The portrait that emerges from their stories is that of a man with an insane craving for freedom: from political influences, petty conventions, intellectual limitations, and film forms. In search of liberty, Borowczyk moved from Poland to France and continued his career in Paris. In the name of artistic freedom, he provoked his audience and reached for erotic themes and pornographic aesthetics.
At the same time, he would turn into a despot on set. He treated his film crew like slaves and positioned himself as god. He controlled every element of the film work and used actors as puppets – he did not direct them but animated them and monitored their every gesture, movement and frown.
Mikurda depicts Borowczyk as a character who is both fascinating and tragic. For here, an artist who wanted to express his personal freedom with every action became enslaved to his own public image towards the end of his career. Whereas his early live-action films, such as Goto: Island of Love, Blanche, and Immoral Tales, were considered to be a testimony of the sexual revolution of the 1960s (critics and intellectuals praised Borowczyk's bravery and aesthetic transgressions), over time he was typecast as a pornographer.
Borowczyk became a hostage of his own image. The audience waited for his next juicy stories and the producers wanted to fund only his erotic films. Eventually, even scenes that he did not direct were edited into his films while the final cuts were promoted with erotic stills that were not part of them. And just like that, the avant-garde artist became (not by his own fault) a scandalmonger and the image of a pornographer stuck with him until his final years.
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Still from Kuba Mikurda's Love Express: The Strange Case of Walerian Borowczyk, photo: press materials
goto the isle of love
Fittingly, Kuba Mikurda uses on a variety of forms and styles as he tells the story of one of Polish cinema's most versatile artists. In his documentary, stories of its characters intertwine with archival footage, film fragments, behind-the-scenes material, and animated elements. Mikurda inserts the latter into the structure of his story as humorous and frequently also ironical counterpoints. He also treats some of his guests with irony – especially Slavoj Žižek, whose characteristic manner of speech and gesticulation is emphasised by the film montage.
Mikurda is not afraid to mark his presence as a director in the film. In Love Express, we can see his artistic intent and the formal key which he uses to open the door to his hero's world.
Love Express is also a product of a grand passion for cinema. Mikurda, a film student and a lecturer at Łódź Film School, as well as an author, editor, and translator of film books, including a book on the topic of Lacan's psycho-analysis, did a great job of searching through film archives and libraries. Dozens of reviews, press mentions and archival footage create Borowczyk's universe and allow the viewer to briefly enter his reality and understand his film world.
The one thing that this portrait lacks is Borowczyk's private life. In Mikurda's documentary, Goto's director is first and foremost an artist struggling with the limitations of his era and his own temptations. We learn very little about his personal affairs – perhaps excluding the titbit about how during his twenty years of collaboration with Noël Véry, Borowczyk had lunch with him only once. Perhaps this is why it is difficult to honestly recount his private life.
During the 15th Millennium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival in 2018, the film was awarded the prize for the Best Music & Arts Film (shared with The Prince and the Dybbuk).
- Love Express: The Strange Case of Walerian Borowczyk. Director: Kuba Mikurda. Script: Kuba Mikurda, Marcin Kubawski. Cinematography: Piotr Stasik, Radosław Ładczuk. Music: Stefan Wesołowski. Montage: Marek Kralovsky. Producers: Danuta Krasnohorska, Katarzyna Siniarska.
Written by Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Aug 2018