Tag Archives: Polish cinema

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

The Story of Sin

The Story of Sin
The Story of Sin

Format: Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD)

Release date: 13 March 2017

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Writer: Walerian Borowczyk

Based on the novel by: Stefan Zeromski

Cast: Grazyna Dlugolecka, Jerzy Zelnik, Olgierd Łukaszewicz

Original title: Dzieje grzechu

Poland 1975

130 mins

Eve is traditionally the temptress, but in The Story of Sin, it is Ewa who is tempted when a handsome anthropologist, Lukasz, comes to stay as a lodger in her parents’ house. Already married, Lukasz is in the process of seeking a divorce – no easy task for a Catholic. In the meantime, a relationship begins between him and Ewa with, on her side, all the passion of first love… and all its obsessed desperation when Lukasz suddenly departs. Ewa leaves her job and family to go in search of him, a bold decision for a woman living around the turn of the century. As she and Lukasz are successively reunited and separated by a series of melodramatic events, Ewa’s downfall is assured by the predatory men she encounters on her travels.

Made the same year as The Beast (La Bête), with its fantasy sequences of bestiality, The Story of Sin has been subject to critical debate about whether it is art or soft-core pornography – the same debate that has surrounded the majority of director Walerian Borowczyk‘s features. Adapted from a novel by Stefan ?eromski, it has a period setting, complete with its costumes and manners. When the film departs from the expected tropes of the period piece, the effect is startling. Ewa and Lukasz meet each other with all the expected formality, so buttoned-up that a corset left carelessly on a bedpost intrigues Lukasz and mortifies Ewa. Just a couple of scenes later, Lukasz is groping Ewa in a public park. They begin writing ardent letters to each other, Ewa slipping her billets doux discreetly into Lukasz’s mailbox, only to lie stark naked in bed as she reads his replies. The film’s artistic credentials are boosted by Borowczyk’s virtuoso use of close-ups and point-of-view shots, which lend something of the unexpected to an otherwise slavish blow-by-blow, over-long enactment of the novel.

Most scenes in the film are permeated with sexual threat, from the lascivious artist (another lodger), to the priapic villain who propositions Ewa in a village tavern and, when she refuses, improbably pursues her across Europe. If every man lusts after Ewa (apart from her father and one homosexual character), it is not that she is irresistible: it is that they see Ewa, like all women, as nothing more than prey, which they have a god-given right, as men, to use for their pleasure. Even Lukasz may be a fly-by-night – it is Ewa who makes all the effort to find him, while he never seems to be around when she needs him most. There is just one scene in the film where male and female bodies, in lovemaking, appear equally vulnerable and desirable beneath the camera’s gaze. Yet even this image is severely compromised by the fact that Ewa is being forced: her partner, completely in love with her, doesn’t realise that another man has orchestrated the encounter against her will. All in all, The Story of Sin makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Alison Frank

Who Is Walerian Borowczyk?

As part of our exploration of ground-breaking Polish director Walerian Borowczyk, we look at his career as a board game in our comic strip review.

As part of Kinoteka, ‘Walerian Borowczyk: The Listening Eye’, an exhibition of preliminary studies for his animated shorts Les Jeux des Anges (1964), Le dictionnaire de Joachim (1965) and The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal (1967) as well as his unique wooden sound sculptures is on at the ICA’s Fox Reading Room from 20 May – 6 July 2014.

Two programmes of Borowczyk’s short films will screen at the ICA on 24 and 25 May 2014.

The Walerian Borowczyk retrospective runs at BFI Southbank until the end of May 2014.

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 Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne.

Comic Strip Review by Tony Hitchman



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:



Format: DVD (Box Set)

Release date: 25 March 2013

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Krzysztof Zanussi

Writer: Krzysztof Zanussi

Cast: Stanis?aw Lata??o, Ma?gorzata Pritulak, Monika Dzienisiewicz-Olbrychska

Original title: Iluminacja

Poland 1972

91 mins

With his thick glasses, gangly frame and awkward demeanour, Franciszek Retman (Stanis?aw Lata??o) looks the part of the nerdy scientist. He chooses to study physics because he wants to understand the world with the most certainty possible, but life is about to throw some obstacles in his way – both practical and philosophical.

In Illumination (1972), rather than simply telling the story of a character’s life, director Krzysztof Zanussi wanted to present that character’s developing states of mind. To do this, he had to escape from traditional narrative form, instead modelling his film on an essay. Illumination does present pivotal events and everyday scenes from Franciszek’s life, but these standard narrative passages are whittled down to a minimum. Zanussi fills in the gaps with cinéma vérité footage of academic discussions and experiments, and images of medical diagrams, scientific graphs and close-ups of the human body.

Does this approach work? Not entirely: audiences may become bored with Franciszek’s quite ordinary existence. The narrative sections, showing happy moments with his loved ones, are intimate and beautiful, and the intercut stills are original and surprising, but this is not always enough to keep the audience engaged.

Some viewers will also find it difficult to watch the film’s footage of biological and medical experiments. But it is a disquiet shared by Franciszek, whose gentle, inquisitive nature is horrified by some scientists’ lack of empathy for their subjects as human beings. The film marks each milestone in Franciszek’s life with a still image of an official document, always accompanied by the same dissonant chord on the soundtrack. While his life seems to be proceeding normally, there is something not quite right in his world, something that extends beyond the normal existential questions that are part of everyone’s psychological experience. The film couldn’t point directly at the authoritarian political system that controlled Poland at the time, but it could create a generalised atmosphere of unease and menace, and does so with chilling effect.

Zanussi admired physicists because their discipline allowed them to be free thinkers at a time when Marxist doctrine had infiltrated most other academic areas, including biology. The director had originally included a scene where Franciszek takes part in the 1968 student demonstrations at the University of Warsaw, but the censors forced him to cut it. Now lost, the footage could not be put back into the restored version of the film.

Second Run’s DVD release of Illumination is part of the second edition of classic films of Polish cinema and comes with an insightful, and very recent, interview with Zanussi himself, in English. It also includes A Trace (&#346lad, 1996) a short film about Stanis?aw Lata??o, the cameraman who reluctantly played Franciszek: Zanussi rightly felt that Lata??o would be more convincing than a glamorous professional actor at playing a nerdy physicist. Liner notes by critic and author Micha? Oleszczyk offer an engaging analysis of the film and a lucid assessment of Zanussi’s place in Polish film history as ‘one of the godfathers’ of the ‘cinema of moral anxiety’.

Alison Frank

Night Train

Night Train

Format: 4 Disc DVD Box-Set

Title: Polish Cinema Classics

Includes: Andrzej Wajda’s Innocent Sorcerers, Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Night Train, Janusz Morgenstern’s Goodbye, See You Tomorrow and Andrzej Munk’s Eroica

Release date: 12 March 2012

Distributor: Second Run

Title: Night Train

Director: Jerzy Kawalerowicz

Writer: Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Jerzy Lutowski

Original title: Pociag

Cast: Lucyna Winnicka, Leon Niemczyk

Poland 1959

99 mins

A man in sunglasses boards a train and insists on a sleeping compartment all to himself. A woman has already moved into his compartment and refuses to leave. Fellow passengers look on with curiosity, but this is just the beginning of their eventful overnight journey. Newspaper reports mention a wife killer on the lam: could one of the passengers in the sleeping carriage be the murderer?

Part of the Polish Cinema Classics box-set, the new Second Run DVD release of Night Train (1959) includes just one special feature, which doubles as a sneaky promotional clip for another upcoming release: My Seventeen Lives, a documentary about the director, Jerzy Kawalerowicz. While instructive, at just six and a half minutes this clip can only provide a minimum of information about Kawalerowicz, his film and its place in the Polish School of the 1950s.

Still, it’s hard to be disappointed in this DVD given the outstanding quality of the feature itself. Shot in lush black and white, striking compositions frame the actors’ expressive faces. Leon Niemczyk (who later starred in Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water) plays the solitary passenger, Jerzy. In the documentary, Niemczyk explains that Kawalerowicz didn’t like his actors to memorise their lines: he wanted to capture thought and hesitation on their faces. This helps to create an air of reticence and mystery, while a languorous jazzy soundtrack enhances the film’s charged atmosphere. When Jerzy enters the sleeping carriage, the viewer is immersed alongside him in a microcosm where it is difficult to keep track of all the individuals and their personal stories: the film begs to be re-watched in order to understand them, but will always retain some ambiguity.

Kawalerowicz says in the documentary that he wanted viewers to feel as though they were actually travelling on a train. A real train was too unstable a location for filming, so a sleeper carriage was set up in the studio, where a complex series of rear projections provided the scenery rushing past the windows. Skilful camerawork also contributes to the film’s lifelike impression, juxtaposing two spatial axes: up and down the train’s crowded corridors, and in and out of the cramped compartments. These two axes also represent the tenuous division between the public space of the corridor and the supposedly private space of the compartment.

There is a small-town feeling to passenger relationships on the train: the travellers just can’t resist invading each other’s privacy, offering unsolicited advice and flirting shamelessly. The film is understanding of human flaws, though, pointing to the traumas and disappointments that make individuals act the way they do. It is harder to excuse the characters for instantly turning on a fellow passenger who is suspected of murder: all previous companionship with the suspect counts for nothing, as they gossip about tell-tale signs of criminality. Similarly, rather than letting the police do their job when the murderer flees, the passengers join in the chase, forming a small but increasingly aggressive mob. Other people’s misfortunes become a spectator sport.

Night Train is only available as part of Second Run’s Polish Cinema Classics box-set.

Alison Frank

Deep End

Deep End

Format: Cinema

Release date: 6 May 2011

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: BFI

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Writers: Jerzy Skolimowski, Jerzy Gruza, Boleslaw Sulik

Cast: Jane Asher, John Moulder-Brown, Diana Dors

West Germany/UK 1970

90 mins

Deep End is a film driven by and dripping with discomfort, an effect that’s heightened by the 40-year interval between its original release and recent revamp by BFI’s Flipside imprint. The story of Mike, a London teenager working his first job as a public bath attendant, and his sexual obsession with his co-worker Susan, it is morally ambiguous in tone, pitched somewhere between psychosexual thriller and a dark coming-of-age comedy. In that sense it’s quite typical of the era in which it was made: particularly where working-class characters are concerned, the sexual liberation promised by the seismic cultural shifts of the 60s often translated in British film into an atmosphere of acute sexual tension, characterised by anxious promiscuity and voyeurism, casual misogyny played for comic value and a kind of nervous laughter that seems to signify fear more than pleasure. (The merriment generated by Rita Tushingham’s use of the word ‘rape!’ in Richard Lester’s 1965 The Knack… and How to Get It springs to mind, as does weirder fare like David Greene’s 1969 thriller I Start Counting, a claustrophobic murder story that doubles up as a slightly creepy study of suburban schoolgirl Jenny Agutter’s developing sexuality.)

But there is something more self-aware about Deep End. The uncomfortable mood is not just the by-product of its time and our latter-day perspective on it, but also, perhaps, of director Jerzy Skolimovski‘s own slightly distanced perspective on his subject. This might seem at first like a British film, but much of it is shot in Munich, and it’s a UK/German production by a Polish director whose previous credits included the script for Polanski’s sophisticated Knife in the Water. So, immediately, the setting doesn’t feel right; something is off-kilter - and I admit I wasted a good few minutes trying to work out ‘where’ in London the bath scenes were filmed, while knowing somehow they weren’t quite English-looking enough. Certain sequences, such as the film’s dénouement involving bin-bags full of snow and a lost diamond, have a touch of avant-garde European theatre about them, and the use of ‘Mother Sky’ by German band Can on the film’s soundtrack adds to the sense of displacement: instead of the lumpy late-60s grooves often flowed over party scenes of the time, we get Jaki Liebezeit’s metronomic drums and Damo Suzuki’s androgynous Japanese-English vocal. In addition, Skolimowski effects some neat shifts in perspective that feel very deliberate, initially inviting us to bond with his young lead (played with disarming fervour by John Moulder-Brown) and enjoy the initial friendship between him and Susan (an impressive, dispassionate Jane Asher) as they deal with the demands of their unappealing elders, in the form of sexually rapacious customers, Mike’s forlorn parents and the repulsive schoolteacher with whom Susan has an on-off affair. As Mike’s desires get more aggressive and delusional, and Susan attempts to move on and away from her mundane life via her proprietorial mod boyfriend, the viewer is left stranded in a quite nightmarish miasma of frustrated wants and needs, and can only dread the outcome.

Where Deep End really excels and discomfits - and this is one good reason to catch the cinema re-release - is when it homes in on the physicality of everyday life, the weirdness of existing in our bodies and environments. The camera pays forensic attention to both Mike and Susan’s bodies with an unusual equality - lingering as much over John Moulder-Brown’s skinny, downy adolescent limbs as Jane Asher’s slender body. Their natural, young beauty is sharply contrasted with the poverty of their surroundings and attitudes. Aside from the clammy coldness of the pool itself with its mouldy changing rooms and slippery sides and walls in need of repainting, Mike and Susan exist in a world of crap British weather, muddy grey snow, uncomfortable clothes, cheap shampoo and health education posters asking ‘What if a man could get pregnant?’ The brief exterior shots of London offer no escape, showing suburbs still ravaged by Second World War bomb damage, stuffy porno cinemas, overpriced clubs offering a sedated kind of fun, and a bland Soho where Mike meets a maternal prostitute with one leg in a plaster cast.

Of course, much of this is only apparent in retrospect - it’s almost half a century later and we are so used to cleaned-up, non-furtive depictions of bodies and sex and exercise, even when they’re supposed to be gritty and ‘real’, that the grubbiness of the 1960s and 70s comes as a shock. But even if something is the contemporary norm, it can still be commented upon, and Skolimowski’s choice of setting suggests that this is so. The pool itself is laden with meaning, even before you get to any Freudian water/sex interpretations. At the time, a public bath was not just a place to keep fit or have fun, as it is now: for poorer people in London, still living in pre-war housing, it was where you went to wash. (It was also one of the few places you’d actually see or be in proximity to other people’s almost-naked bodies.) Wryly bleak, Deep End suggests that not only are we in over our heads, but we will never quite get clean either.

Frances Morgan