Tag Archives: French cinema



Seen at L’Étrange Festival, Paris (France)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 April 2017

Distributor: Universal

Director: Julia Ducournau

Writer: Julia Ducournau

Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

Original title: Grave

France 2016

95 mins

Julia Ducournau’s technically masterful female-focused cannibal film is less insightful than it may seem.

A girl walks alone at dawn, alongside a deserted country road. When a car drives by, she dives underneath it, causing the car to crash into a tree. The driver is dead and the girl leans over the car door to examine him. Here we are, then, revisiting David Cronenberg’s Crash, one might be tempted to think. Yet we soon find out that, if Julia Ducournau’s first feature film – selected for the Cannes Critics’ Week 2016 – definitely pays tribute to the ‘baron of blood’, it is most indebted to his recent novel Consumed. (Incidentally, let it be said that the English title makes the film’s cannibalistic turn evident from the start.) Cronenberg makes a perfect and duly acknowledged tutelary figure for the 32-year-old French director, who must have been fed pithy anecdotes from dissecting tables and emergency wards in her early days by her dermatologist father and gynaecologist mother. This might partly account for Ducournau’s obsession with the transformation of bodies, already omnipresent in her short film Junior (2011) and in her TV film Mange (2012). Junior actress Garance Marillier – now come of age and confirming her talent – is entrusted with the main role of Justine, who joins her elder sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) for her first year in a veterinary school. During the unavoidable fresher initiation ritual (and in France medical schools are known to be the most gruesome), vegetarian Justine is forced to swallow a raw rabbit kidney, which, after an allergic reaction, triggers a novel taste for meat. A bikini-line depilation accident transforms this taste into a craving for human flesh, which actually runs in the family, as Alexia turns out to be ‘crash’ girl, eating her victims’ spare parts.

Although at first sight, Ducournau seems to be using the horror genre as a vehicle for a reflection on the passage to adulthood, the film is rather short on social or psychological insights, while the plot and the characters seem half-baked. In fact, Ducournau indulges in a sensationalist exploitation of the theme and the wide range of unpalatable reactions it provokes. This was clearly confirmed when she presented her film at the Etrange Festival, and evidently relished retelling the pungent anecdote from the Toronto Film Festival where paramedics had to be called during the screening to assist a spectator who had found the film hard to stomach. Thus, inscribed within the horror genre, Raw rather self-consciously plays with its codes, safe within its boundaries and often verging on parody. Ducournau delivers an efficient and technically mastered (but one would not expect less from a Fémis graduate) variation on the cannibal flick, which manages to keep a few twists in store alongside the more expected final feast. Ducournau was one of the 30 people on The Alice Initiative 2016 list, which aims to boost the number of female directors. Let us hope she gives us more fat to chew on in the years to come.

Pierre Kapitaniak

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)

Bang Gang
Bang Gang

Format: Cinema

Seen at LFF 2015

Release date: 17 June 2016

DVD release date: 18 July 2016

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Eva Husson

Writer: Eva Husson

Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Marilyn Lima, Daisy Broom

Original title: Bang Gang (Une histoire d’amour moderne)

France 2015

98 mins

This intense French debut blows away the cobwebs with its depiction of love and sex in the internet age.

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story): Interview with Eva Husson

Eva Husson’s vital debut joyously blows up simplistic judgements and adult anxieties with its candid portrayal of modern youth. In a seaside town in the south of France, the amorous entanglements between loner Laetitia, school beauty George and party boys Alex and Nikita, lead to the spontaneous creation of group sex parties with other teenagers. The full-frontal opening, a dreamy, fluid meandering among young bodies engaged in kissing, screwing, playing and drinking, drops us straight in the middle of one of their orgies. But what follows is not quite what might be expected from such a beginning: neither exploitative shocker nor critique of our pornified culture, the film is instead a complex, nuanced tale of love in the time of total sexual freedom.

That porn has an impact on young people’s views of sexuality is acknowledged; so is the pull of youthful hedonism. But the sex parties are prompted less by explicit YouTube videos than by a girl’s heartbreak. And the two most attractive and sexually active characters in the film, one male, one female, despite all the banging and the bravado, are ultimately looking for love in its different forms. These teenagers know everything there is to know about sexuality, but they are as maladroit and inexperienced as their elders when it comes to feelings and relationships. Countering media-inflated concerns about the effect of modern life on young people, Bang Gang affirms that the context may have changed, but growing up and negotiating your way through love and sexuality remains essentially the same: sexual freedom does not pervert love; nor does it make it easier, or more difficult, to find it.

Some of what has changed is for the better: the girls in the film are sexually liberated and are not punished for it. They openly like sex as much as the boys, and can be equally as unsentimental. Romantic clichés are sent up (the idea that the first time has to be special for a girl is comically subverted), and love can be found through the excesses of drugged sexual experimentation. And although love is ultimately what the film is about, libidinous desire is celebrated in itself, with the camera sensually capturing the warm beauty of naked bodies and the loveliness of physical intimacy.

The self-contained world of the teenagers, entirely cut off from the adult world, is perceptively, tangibly described. The importance of ambiguous, homoerotic friendships, the creation of a persona to hide emotional vulnerability, the wired energy that needs an outlet for release, are all keenly observed. But although the adults are largely depicted as either unaware or uncomprehending, Husson is interested in the teenagers’ relationships to their parents, who range from painfully absent to weightily present, and the way familial bonds inflect their behaviour. In this way, the search for romantic love that is at the heart of the story is intelligently inscribed in a larger nexus of emotional connections that includes friends and parents too. Fuelled by the acute intensity of lived experience, Bang Gang is an incisively frank, yet celebratory depiction of first love in the internet age.

Virginie Sélavy

This review is part of our LFF 2015 coverage.

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Director: Romain Basset

Writers: Romain Basset, Karim Chériguène

Cast: Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux, Catriona MacColl, Murray Head

France 2014

89 mins

Every year the Etrange Festival hosts its share of unreleased films, and this year it included the world premiere of the first feature film by a young French director, Romain Basset, who had already presented a short on vampires in 2008, Bloody Current Exchange, and another on ghosts in 2009, Rémy, at the same festival. Horsehead is his ambitious attempt at lifting the curse that has long prevented French cinema from producing good films in the horror genre.

After her grandmother’s death, Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) goes back to the spooky family manor, evidently loaded with dark secrets, where her mother Catelyn (Catriona MacColl, Lucio Fulci’s muse from the early 1980s) lives with her husband Jim (Murray Head) and George the gardener (Vernon Dobtcheff). Haunted by recurrent dreams since her childhood, Jessica has turned to studying the psychophysiological theories of lucid dreams, and her nightmares worsen with the proximity of her grandmother’s corpse. When she is bedridden with a strange fever (Fièvre was the working title of the film), she tries to control the visions of her grandmother’s ghost in order to communicate with her. Soon dream and reality merge, with reality altered by the unconscious, while the plot slowly navigates between the two states to unravel a shameful family secret.

The film seduces with its aesthetic choices. Vincent Vieillard-Baron, who was also responsible for the cinematography on Rémy, elaborates on a rich visual variation of The Nightmare, the famous painting by the 18th-century painter Henry Fuseli, whose title is literally represented by the head of a mare hovering over a sleeping beauty, on whose breast sits an incubus. The mare, or rather the eponymous Horsehead, becomes a character in the film, and Basset enriches Fuseli’s pun with a further paronomastic layer (which only works in French) between jument (mare) and jumelle (twin). It seems as if Basset’s intention were to base the whole plot on this Lacanian pun, and unfortunately, the result meets neither Basset’s ambitions nor our expectations. In particular, the film would have been better off without the religious imagery that blurs its main point. Jack of all trades and master of none, Basset cannot resist accumulating clichés. One can hardly grasp the need for Jessica’s nude crucifixion, let alone why anyone would want to have an abortion in a chapel, while the figures of the grandfather (described as an ‘Old Testament kind of man’) and of the Cardinal, mixed with the theme of immaculate conception, all seem strangely out of place in a plot whose main aim is a genealogical quest.

Basset errs on the wrong side of excess, unable to turn down ideas and desires when they arise, all in all less capable of controlling his opulent imagination than Jessica her dreams. To crown it all, hoping to fool the devil by opting for an English-speaking cast, Basset does nothing to justify the fact that the film was shot on location in the village of Argenton-sur-Creuse, right in the middle of France. Yet for all the imperfections of youth, Horsehead deserves the benevolent reception one usually grants a first film, though the French curse remains yet to be lifted.

Pierre Kapitaniak

This review is part of our Etrange Festival 2014 coverage.

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Immoral Tales

Immoral Tales
Immoral Tales

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 8 September 2014

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Writer: André Pieyre de Mandiargues

Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Lise Danvers, Charlotte Alexandra, Paloma Picasso, Florence Bellamy

Original title: Contes immoraux

France 1974

103 mins

Walerian Borowczyk’s art/filth portmanteau film consists of four stories. Set in the modern world, on a barren pebble beach ‘La Marée’ (‘The Tide’) has Fabrice Luchini as a 20-year-old boy using his seniority to impose his desires on his 16-year-old cousin (Lise Danvers).

Set in 1890, ‘Thérèse Philosophe’ has Charlotte Alexandra as a pious girl, locked in her room, who gets all hot and bothered by the stations of the cross (and a mucky illustrated tract), before falling victim to a malicious vagrant.

The third episode is a staging of the Erzsebet Bathory legend, as Paloma Picasso rides into a Hungarian village and rounds up all the suitably pulchritudinous females for a ritualised sequence of bathing, frock ripping and eventual slaughter. She bathes in their blood before making love to her female squire, who then betrays her to the King’s men.

‘Lucrezia Borgia’ is a carnival of power, corruption and hypocrisy as Lucrezia (Florence Bellamy), the Pope, and various holy lackeys indulge in cackling murder and blasphemous three-way fornication, while a preacher who denounces their regime is burnt at the stake for his troubles.

Plotwise, we are in a brutal and troubling world here, where the urge to power and the sexual drive are hopelessly entwined; where authority is corrupt and murderous and innocence or righteousness are doomed. There’s a Sadean delight in perversity, an emphasis on anti-clericalism and a delight in the blasphemous. This being a Borowczyk film, though, it’s all incredibly seductive, a sensual world of white lace, creamy marble and peachy flesh where everything is sexualised. The carefully chosen objects decorating his sets and locations are there to be stroked, fondled and played with; the elaborate costumes are there to be elaborately removed. Dialogue is sparse, the visual takes precedence. It’s gorgeous, feeling at times like we’ve wandered into a Brueghel, or Dutch master painting.

Immoral Tales brings Pasolini’s Salò (1975) to mind on more than one occasion, but while that film is hellish, cold and ultimately depressing, Borowczyk’s is just that bit more playful – you can sense a knowing smile playing around his lips as the outrage hits home. Sexuality in his films is overwhelming and dangerous and often twisted, but it’s also natural and human and obviously a source of immense pleasure. He often intercuts his scenes of carnality with on-looking animals and uncaring nature, as if they are sitting in judgement, wondering how we let something so simple get so fucked up.

Immoral Tales had a convoluted release history. The episodes were made over 1973-4, and an unfinished version played at the London Film festival in 1974. This disc includes the longer French edit, including another episode, ‘ La Bête’ (‘The Beast’). This was the version that won the L’Age d’Or award (as judged by Max Ernst, among others) and became a box office hit, before it was removed and expanded to become its own feature film La Bête in 1976. I’m grateful for the episodes’s inclusion here because it’s probably my favourite of the Tales: a virginal 18th-century French woman breaks off from playing the harpsichord to follow a straying lamb into the woods, whereupon she is chased and ravaged by a beast, a huge brown-eyed bear-like creature with a seemingly permanent, jism-dripping erection*. Her sexuality awakened, she throws off her corset and proceeds to hump the exhausted creature to death. She then tenderly covers its body with dry leaves, grabs what remains of her clothing and returns to civilisation. This is, I realise, pretty much indefensible from any sexual/political point of view, but as a piece of uninhibited Freudian fantasy cinema it takes some beating. Borowczyk’s Tales all work on this level, troubling wet dreams emerging from his id.

I’m not sure how well they would function as straight pornography, how much use the raincoat brigade would have for cutaways of a snail crawling over a silk shoe, or all that choral and keyboard music. And while the tales are clearly meant to provoke, they simply don’t follow the exploitation playbook. The Bathory and Borgia episodes are notably coy about onscreen violence considering their blood-soaked possibilities. An animator and a supremely visual stylist, the Borowczyk of Immoral Tales is akin to a sensationalist Buñuel , an old-school surrealist with a one-track mind.

Special features include Private Collection, an odd, amusing short in which a man, his head never in shot, displays to us his extensive collection of historical smut: prints, projections, dildos and mechanical toys. There are a couple of informative featurettes, the aforementioned L’Age d’Or award cut of the film, and a trailer. All in all, a fine package for an essential piece of weird cinema.

Mark Stafford

*As arthouse lust monsters go, it’s up there with Isabelle Adjani’s tentacled lover in Zulawski’s Possession (1981). Incidentally, a young Adjani was to be cast in ‘La Marée’, which would have been her first film, before she got cold feet.

The Beast

The Beast
The Beast

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 8 September 2014

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Writer: Walerian Borowczyk

Cast: Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Hummel, Elisabeth Kaza

Original title: La Bête

France 1975

93 mins

Part fairy tale, part sex romp, part Buñuelian satire, Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast is as much of a quirky oddity now as it was upon its original release in 1973. Disparaged by Borowczyk purists and mainstream reviewers both (the New York Times called it ‘unfit for man or beast’), the film was originally rejected for UK certification by the BBFC and not seen here in its uncut form until 2001, when it finally underwent something of a critical reappraisal.

So how does the once controversial film look now, nearly 40 years on from its production? Certainly still transgressive; perhaps less so for its over the top scenes of prosthetic bestiality than its cheerful disavowal of current social mores (it’s hard to imagine the character of the priapic black servant passing muster these days, for one). The sexual liaison between woman and beast (King Kong with bodily fluids!) that so outraged reviewers at the time seems largely comic now; not simply because of the relatively primitive make-up effects, but mainly due to the fact that Borowczyk seems to be in on the joke, even if most of the critics of the period weren’t.

But beyond the more censor-baiting material, The Beast is still a barbed, funny satire on sex, hypocrisy and repression. Certainly its jabs at the aristocracy and the priesthood, although perhaps less daring with age, are still relevant several decades on. And the director’s visual command and deft pacing keep the bawdy hijinks from ever descending into complete silliness, even if he never seems to be taking any of it particularly seriously. It’s impossible to claim The Beast as a particularly poetic or meaningful film; without a doubt there are Borowczyk works that go deeper. But it nevertheless remains a defiantly entertaining one, political correctness be damned.

Sean Hogan

Eden and After

Eden and After
Eden and After

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 30 June 2014

Distributor: BFI

Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet

Writer: Alain Robbe-Grillet

Cast: Catherine Jourdan, Lorraine Rainer, Sylvain Corthay

Original title: L’éden et Après:

France, Czechoslovakia 1970

93 mins

If a psychedelic, sado-masochistic, decomposed narrative of feminist self-actualisation against a macho hegemony, improvised around mid-20th-century atonal music compositional techniques, sounds a little dry to you, then you’d be fully justified in giving Eden and After (L’éden et après) a miss.

But you’d be wrong.

‘All you need to make a movie…’ to famously mis-quote Jean-Luc Godard, ‘…is a girl and a gun’; if Catherine Jourdan’s performance in Eden and After proves anything, it’s that any prospective filmmaker could easily dispense with the firearm. However, Jourdan is only one of many successive, sliding, pleasures of the film.

As one of the leading literary luminaries (along with Georges Perec and Marguerite Duras) of the experimental nouveau roman, novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet had been confounding narrative and character expectations in print since the early 50s and in the early 60s turned to film to explore his provocative themes to equal acclaim.

After the relative commercial and critical disappointment of his 1968 feature, The Man Who Lies (L’homme qui ment), Alain Robbe-Grillet was prompted, taking note of the late 60s youthquake, to create something with a specific appeal to a younger audience. In this endeavour, Robbe-Grillet appears at times to be channelling the kaleidoscopic colour schemes of the Italian horror maestro Mario Bava and the slow, surreal sensuality of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco. The hallucinatory atmosphere, flat compositions and pop colours often bring to mind the 60s erotic comics published by Eric Losfield and drawn by Guy Peellaert, Guido Crepax, or more recently, Milo Manara.

Eden and After is certainly Robbe-Grillet’s most visually pleasurable film; red, white and blue dominate – though not, we are assured, for patriotic reasons. Due to a longstanding loathing for the colour green, Robbe-Grillet’s fourth film was only his first in colour. Although the resources were available to him, the verdant locale of The Man Who Lies had by its nature prohibited the process. However, the azure and whitewashed landscape viewed during a short lecture tour of Tunisia provided the chromatic inspiration for Robbe-Grillet’s thrust out of monochrome and into Eastman Color.

In a canny piece of budgetary manipulation, Robbe-Grillet endeavoured to finance Eden and After by using funding intended for a separate feature-length piece destined for French TV, thus requiring a process designed to create two distinct and unique productions, from the footage of a single movie shoot. Robbe-Grillet’s solution came via his fascination with the compositional techniques of mid-20th-century contemporary atonal music (Robbe-Grillet was pals with the Pierre Boulez set). For the improvisational structure of one film, he embraced the serialist theories of Arnold Schoenberg; and for the other, he drew on the aleatoric (literally, throwing a dice) compositional theories pioneered by Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. The result was Eden and After (1970) and the anagrammatical – in both title and content – N. Took the Dice (N. a pris les dès, made in 1971 but not broadcast until 1975).

The plot – and there definitely is one – involves university students at the Eden café – a mutable, Mondrian-gridded, mirrored maze – taking part in ritualized play-acting of various dark scenarios (a gang rape, a wake, a poisoning, an execution). A mysterious, older stranger arrives, disrupting their youthful routine and seemingly offering a passport to adulthood. A chase through a disused, Pompidou-hued factory follows and a mysterious death leads to an exotic North African adventure involving the search for a stolen painting.

The joy of Eden and After is in deciphering the many punning symbols (a key, a keyboard, a musical key, 88 keys, the looping symbol for infinity) and identifying the doubles and mirror images of characters, actions and events in what is, after all, intended as playful; an improvised game following the rules of serialism – 12 generating themes (prison, water, blood, labyrinth, death, sperm etc…) for each of the film’s five chapters, in sequence, with no theme repeated within that chapter.

We are invited to respond to it as we would to a painting or piece of music, and indeed there are many references to painters (another of Robbe-Grillet’s obsessions and occupations), the aforementioned Mondrian and Duchamp among others. It is a very painterly film: deliberately flat to echo the shadowless September noon of the Djerba medina quarter.

Joining the cast a mere three days before production began, Catherine Jourdan was a last-minute replacement when the original actress cast was made temporarily alopeciac due a botched henna-ed hair job. A nightclub acquaintance, Robbe-Grillet was struck by Jourdan’s Medusan locks, which in a typically bloody-minded act, Jourdan had chopped before arriving on set. Although she was not initially cast as the intended protagonist, Jourdan’s effulgent screen presence so dominated the improvisation process that it grew clear that she was the lead, and indeed it is her character that we follow in the second half of the film.

Eden and After is one of a rare handful of films (including Argento’s Profondo Rosso, and Godard’s Le petit soldat perhaps) where you are tangibly aware of the director falling in love with his main actress; Jourdan was never as commanding on screen before or after.

Eden and After, N. Took the Dice and The Man Who Lies are available on the BFI’s Alain Robbe-Grillet Six Films 1963-1974 Blu-ray/DVD box-sets, released on 30 June 2014. Also included are The Immortal One, Trans-Europ-Express and Successive Slidings of Pleasure.

Vadim Kosmos

– Eternally indebted to Tim Lucas’s (of Video Watchdog magazine) typically effusive and scholarly commentary on the BFI discs.



Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 8 September 2014

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Writer: Walerian Borowczyk

Based on the poem by: Juliusz S?;owacki

Cast: Ligia Branice, Michel Simon, Georges Wilson

France 1971

92 mins

Walerian Borowczyk’s medieval tragedy fools audiences into expecting one of the erotic films for which the director later became infamous. In the opening sequence of Blanche, the title character is seen emerging, completely naked, from her bath. The camera’s lascivious eye sets the scene for a tale of forbidden desire, but Blanche herself is as pure as her name (French for ‘white’). For the rest of the film she always appears, nun-like, in long gowns and modest caps that hide all but her hands and face. Young, beautiful, and married to an elderly baron, Blanche must flee the attentions of other men, starting with Bartolomeo, the notorious young page of a visiting king.

With its elegant costumes and set design, Blanche could be described as a historical drama, but the film’s sophistication exceeds conventional models. Borowczyk’s background in fine arts allows him to bring an additional layer of authenticity to the film by drawing on the representational style of the Middle Ages. Shots, composition and framing pay homage to medieval landscape and religious painting. Windows, doors and alcoves dramatically divide interior shots. Exterior long shots emphasise the harmonious juxtaposition of hilltop, pasture and road, with grazing animals and passing cavalcades reduced to minute decorative detail. The film also employs an animal symbolism characteristic of the period. The king arrives with a monkey on his shoulder, a disquieting emblem of insinuating, irrepressible sexuality that has free run of the castle, hiding away only to pop up unexpectedly throughout the film. In contrast, Blanche’s gentle, vulnerable innocence is mirrored by the caged white dove in her bedroom. Tempering the film’s loyalty to a medieval aesthetic, Borowczyk introduces self-reflexive techniques, such as disorientating point-of-view shots, which situate the film within a current of modern cinematic experimentation.

Daniel Bird, who is responsible for the restoration of Borowczyk’s films, says that Blanche (1972) inspired Terry Gilliam’s vision of the Middle Ages in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). I would suggest that Blanche itself appears to have been inspired by Jacques Demy’s Peau d’â;ne (Donkey Skin, 1970), a camp fairy tale about a princess (Catherine Deneuve) who must run away from home when her father decides he wants to marry her. The baron in Blanche is played by Michel Simon, who made his name in 1930s French poetic realist films like Boudu sauvé; des eaux (Boudu Saved from Drowning), L’Atalante and Le quai des brumes (Port of Shadows). He was in his late seventies when he appeared in Blanche opposite Ligia Branice, Borowczyk’s wife; as the baron is old enough to be her father, an early shot of him kissing Blanche on the mouth appears incestuous, echoing the theme of Demy’s film. Jacques Perrin, the young actor who played Prince Charming in Peau d’â;ne, reappears in Blanche as Bartolomeo, another role in which he ultimately defends the heroine’s honour.

The baron justly describes his wife as ‘a saintly woman, above all suspicion’, but halfway through the film he suddenly loses his trust in her. As he becomes irrationally hostile towards Blanche, we may assume that the old man is suffering from dementia. His condition seems to infect the film’s narrative, which loses its grip on the thread of logical coherence. Still, Borowczyk has woven such a mesmerising tapestry that the audience can’t help but continue to watch as it slowly, senselessly unravels.

Alison Frank

The Streetwalker

The Margin
The Streetwalker

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Writer: Walerian Borowczyk

Based on the novel by: André Pieyre de Mandiargues

Cast: Sylvia Kristel, Joe Dallesandro

Original title: La marge

Alternative title: The Margin

France 1976

88 mins

I think it was Lacan who asked the question: if we’re always thinking about sex when we’re doing other things – eating bananas, driving fast cars, learning French – what are we thinking about when we’re actually having sex? When Sylvia Kristel’s streetwalker Diana has sex in Walerian Borowczyk’s 1976 film The Streetwalker (La marge), it’s so obvious as to almost be ludicrous. She stares at the money that she has clutched in her hand with such intensity as to leave no doubt, even as her John, Sigimond (the iconic Joe Dallesandro) thrusts intently away. Sex is a transaction, a way of earning money. Sigimond is a rich vineyard owner with a young family visiting Paris for business. He is a romantic. He is not lonely and Borowczyk shows his home life to be sexually satisfying, idyllic even. He’s prone to mutter mid-coital silliness such as ‘You are the gift and the giver’. And so his dalliance and experimentation while away on his ‘business trip’ has nothing to do with filling a vacuum. He just wants to have some sex. When he is having sex – to answer Lacan’s question and in opposition to Diana – he is thinking about the sex he is having. The film will trace his increasing distraction and the tragic price to be paid for such guileless romance, even as Diana becomes more aware of sex as something other than a way of earning money, which in itself proves a painful reawakening.

Released two years after Kristel achieved notoriety and worldwide fame as Emmanuelle, the film stands as a testament to her genuine ability as an actress, and it is cited by the actress as her favourite role. Her fragility – the gnawing anxiety that she is already being superseded by younger models of her former self – and her growing yearning for something other than monetary gain is played out in a brilliant and nuanced performance. With the shifting of porn into the mainstream via the internet and the proliferation of sexposition in TV drama, the film doesn’t even seem particularly pornographic today, but on release it was received as another attempt to gain art-house respectability for sex films. Kristel’s fame possibly damaged the film as it was remarketed in some regions as Emmanuelle ’77. However, despite the movie star beauty of the prostitutes, Borowczyk never celebrates sex unambiguously, juxtaposing it with the banal. A beautifully shot strip show takes place as a crate of booze is delivered to the bar by a working stiff – sign here, keep a copy – and Diana will retire to the same backroom for a quick delivery of her own. The prostitutes are bitchy and Diana herself is dishonest and angry. Her pimp is a lazy dressing-gown-clad psychopath who does target practice with his pistol in his hotel room. But it is not just the sex that has to contend with the banal, but tragedy too when Sigimond reads a terrible letter from home while gazing over the most unromantic Parisian view of a huge building site.

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection is released by Arrow Academy on 8 September 2014. This unique limited edition box set (Dual Format DVD + Blu-ray) includes the short films, The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, Goto, l’île d’amour, Blanche, The Beast and Immoral Tales – it does not contain The Streetwalker.

With a score from some giants of 1970s music, a stunning extended use of Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ and some fantastic cinematography by long-time collaborator Bernard Daillencourt, the film is a beautiful melancholic meditation on sex in a dirty, dirty world.

John Bleasdale

Watch the original trailer:

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears

The Strange Colour of Your Bodys Tears
The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears

Format: Cinema

Release date: 11 April 2014

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani

Writers: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani

Original title: L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps

Cast: Klaus Tange, Jean-Michel Vovk, Sylvia Camarda, Sam Louwyck

Belgium, France, Luxembourg 2013

102 mins

As gorgeous as it is oppressive, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s latest neo-giallo is an ultra-sensuous, hypnotic trip through dark desires and the disturbing, delicious lines between pleasure and pain, madness and sanity, dream and reality. With a title that riffs on the wonderfully convoluted names of the films that inspired it, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears strengthens the potent aesthetic vision of the directing duo’s 2009 feature debut Amer, focusing entirely on pure sensation. In this hallucinatory, obsessive psychosexual dream, every shot is a marvel of composition, every object and texture is fetishized: leather, gloves, boots, jewels, blood, mirrors, blades. Male and female bodies are repeatedly penetrated, skull wounds are shaped like sexual organs, broken mirror shards enter flesh, as sensual ecstasy becomes deadly and lovers turn assailants.

The narrative is even more minimal than in its Italian predecessors – a man is looking for his missing wife – and it serves as the pretext for an intense distillation of the visual and sonic motifs of the giallo. Just as its masters effortlessly found stunning decors in beautiful, decadent Italian architecture, Strange Colour makes great use of the Brussels art nouveau building in which it is set. With its exuberance of organic round shapes, flowery motifs, voluptuous naked women, twisted stairs, stained glass and golden curlicues, the building is like a living organism, the figures on its walls breathing and moaning with the rapture and agony of its inhabitants.

This review was first published as part of our LFF 2013 coverage.

A baroque film composed of giallo elements that are themselves baroque, Strange Colour constructs a dizzying, infinite cascade of doubles and repetitions, of stories within stories and structures within structures, where everything is mirrored, multiplied and fragmented. While it pays brilliant homage to its models, it is compellingly alluring in itself, and its meticulously crafted world of lush excess, sumptuous sophistication and opulent illusion is deeply seductive.

Virginie Sélavy

Watch the trailer:

Blue Is the Warmest Colour

Loosely based on the French graphic novel Le bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh, Blue Is the Warmest Colour is an oddly seductive, three-hour lesbian love saga, featuring the coming-of-age of middle-class high school girl Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos (Carré blanc), who instantly and desperately falls for foxy art student Emma (Léa Seydoux), from the moment she spots her on the street in Lille until their painful and moving break-up as young adults. Below, Sally-Anne Hickman takes an illustrated look at the film, released in UK cinemas by Artificial Eye on 22 November 2013, and on DVD + Blu-ray (R2/B) on 17 March 2014.

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Comic Strip Review by Sally-Anne Hickman
More information on Sally-Anne Hickman can be found here.