Monday, August 31, 2015

IMMORAL TALES (1974) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review)

Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: A
Duration: 103 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: Uncompressed French Mono 2.0 PCM Audio with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Walerian Borowczyk 

Cast: Lisa Danvers, Paloma Picasso, Fabrice Luchini, Charlotte Alexandra, Pascale Christophe, Florence Bellamy, Jacopo Berinizi, Lorenzo Berinizi

Synopsis: Walerian Borowczyk's first explicitly erotic feature, Immoral Tales presents a veritable cavalcade of depravity: cosmic fellatio, transcendental masturbation, blood-drenched lesbianism and papal incest. It tells four stories, each delving back further in time, as if to suggest that the same issues recur constantly throughout human civilization, whether involving notorious historical figures like Lucrezia Borgia and Erzsébet Báthory, or present-day teenagers. Capitalising on the relaxation of censorship laws, Immoral Tales would transform Borowczyk's image from brilliant but obscure avant-garde artist to one of Europe's most confrontational filmmakers when it came to trampling on sexual taboos.

This Borowczyk anthology of strongly-sexual subject matter is quite a fantastic watch, an arthouse exercise in pushing the boundaries of taboo cinema and one that might surprise even the most adventerous lover of Eurocult with the exploration of incest, bestiality, faith-fueled masturbation, the deviant behavior of the clergy and the blood-laced orgies of the infamous Elizabeth Bathory.

The first tale 'The Tide' involves a pair of teen cousins and a bicycle trip through the countryside to an ocean beach where the slightly older male of the pair coerces his more naive cousin down the beach to a spot that strands them alone on a rocky outcropping during the high tide. Once there he confesses to her that he brought here there to teach her a lesson about the power of the tides, a lesson that involves the gorgeous freckle-faced Julie (Lise Danvers) wrapping her innocent lips around his cock until he spills his life's fluid into her throat. This is a gorgeous slice of exploitation with a sweet cumming of age innocence about it. 

The second erotic tale 'Therèse Philosophe' has young Thérèse M. (Charlotte Alexandra) returning home late from Church one day, she's running late as she she was distracted while fondling and caressing varous phallic objects around the church. Her angry granny punishes her by locking her away in room for three days during which she discovers an old trunk of clothing and erotic drawings, which sends the young lady into an erotic religious fervor as she masturbates with zuchini before meeting her unfortunate fate at the hands of lecherous vagrant, which is foretold at the start of the short.

The third tale, at least on the longer L'Age D'or Cut of the movie, is 'The True Story of the Beast of Gévaudan', a beastiality heavy version of Beauty and The Beast that goes places I did not expect it to, a completely over the top tour de force of weirdness starring Sirpa Lane as a countess who wanders away from her home into the woods where she is attacked by a hairy beast with an enormous horse-like cock, the creature rapes the poor woman, who in a Straw Dogs type manner comes to enjoy the rough encounter, a wildly cum-drizzled tale of perversity that you have to see it to beleieve it, I just cannot imagine how this went over in 1974! This segment was removed for the final theatrical cut of the film and Borowczyk later expanded the short into the feature film 'The Beast' which I must now certainly watch.

The fourth entry is somewhat less erotic but no less perverse, 'Erzebet Bathory' stars Paloma Picasso as the notirous blood-thirsty Elizabth Bathory, who at the start of the short is searching the countryside for virginal young women whom if chosen will have the honor of touching her lace and pearl laden gown. The young women are taken back to her castle where they enjoy a communal shower before being placed together in a room completely nude. Bathory then enters the room wearing her infamous laceand pearl robe and the many young women proceed to touch it, working temsleves up into a ferver, tearing it apart before tearing each other into pieces in an orgy of greed, thus supplying a fresh bath of virginal blood from which Bathory can restore her youth. This is probably the most cinematic of the bunch, it definitekly feels more of the arthouse than it does the grindhouse, with a nice stinger of betrayal at the very end.

The final segment 'Lucrezia Borgia' is a clear stab at the corruption of the Church, not sure what Borowczyk's relationship with the Church was but he certainly didn;t seem to be a fan. We have friar Savonarola (Philippe Desboeuf) decrying the Church and the inherent corruption thereof, this corruption is shown through the incestual exploits of Pope Alexander VI (Mario Ruspoli) with his own daughter Lucrezia's (Florence Bellamy) and son, the three involved in an unholy eye-popping threesome.

Seemingly designed to shock and offend the movie succeeds mostly, as I was honestly shocked by what I saw - especialy by 'The True Story of the Beast of Gévaudan' - though hardly offended. Each segment offering some form of taboo or deviant behavior that wouldn't be out of place in a standard slice of exploitation cinema, but as this is a Borowczyk film each has an arthouse aesthetic, they're gorgeously shot, and each has a fairytale quality about it, which could make it easie swallow for some, if you're gonna watch smut you might as well watch it with style.

Audio/Video: Immoral Tales arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow Video with a barnd new high-definition restoration by Argos Films. The image quality is strong throughout with some modest depth and a layer of film grain, with the second tale looking a little rougher than the others having been shot on 16mm from the look of it, a bit grainer and softer, but looking good just the same. The mono French audio is predictably non-dynamic, but it clean and balanced, optional English subtitles are provided.

The bonus material is pretty great, beginning with the option to view the standfard four-part version or the the original five-part 'L'Age D'or Cut' which includes the 'The Beast of Gévaudanan', for the sake of this review I only watched the longer cut. We have an introduction from Borowczyk expert Daniel Bird, a brief featurette with production manager Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin and cinematographer Noël Véry and an hour long archival interview from the BBC archives with the filmmaker discusses painting, cinema and sex. This interview was never aired and makes its debut on this disc, having been newly edited.

Additionaly there's a visual essay by Daniel Bird about Borowczyk's early works on paper showcasing his impressive visual style in the context of his early commisioned artwork. Lastly we have the theatrical trailer for the film, a sleeve of reversible artowork and a booklet with new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and an archive piece by Philip Strick. Apparently there are some differences between this version and the one that Arrow released in the UK last year, though I am unsure of the specifics, each having their own exclsive content from the looks of it.

Special Features:
- New high definition digital transfers of two versions of the feature, the familiar four-part edition and the original five-part conception including the short film The Beast of Gévaudan - which later became the feature The Beast.
- Immoral Tales (L'Age D'or Cut) (120 Mins)
- Introduction by Borowczyk expert Daniel Bird (5 Mins)
- Love Reveals Itself, a new interview programme featuring production manager Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin and cinematographer Noël Véry (17 Mins)
- Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait of Walerian Borowczyk, a newly-edited archival interview in which the filmmaker discusses painting, cinema and sex (63 Mins)
- Blow Ups, a visual essay by Daniel Bird about Borowczyk's works on paper (5 Mins)
- Theatrical trailer (2 Mins)
- Reversible sleeve featuring Borowczyk's own original poster design
- Illustrated booklet containing new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and an archive piece by Philip Strick

Walerian Borowczyk's Immoral Tales looks fantastic on Blu-ray from Arrow Video with some great extras that will no doubt further inform susbsequent viewings, and this is definitely something I will watch again. I loved the blend of the erotic and perverse subject matter with the European arthouse aesthetic, highly recommended for the adventurous movie watchers. 4/5