Monday, 1 September 2014

Walerian Borowczyk - Short Films and Animations (1959 - 1984)

        Arrow’s region-free Blu-ray release of this collection of many of the shorter works of Polish film-maker Walerian Borowczyk is a veritable treasure trove of brain-frying Euro-weirdness, surrealism and twisted sexuality. Probably the best advice to give right at the beginning of a review about this particular release is that you shouldn’t try watching it all in one go, and certainly not if you’ve ingested anything that might alter your perception of reality beforehand.

There are two parts to the disc - a collection of short subjects, and the 77 minute ‘feature’ THE THEATRE OF MR & MRS KABAL, a head-spinning combination of very strange line-drawing animation intercut with colour photographs. I’ll confess that by the end of this one I was beginning to worry that if I kept watching my own sense of reality might begin to warp, but then I did go and watch all the other films first.

The short film collection is introduced by Terry Gilliam. He's absolutely the best person to front this as many of the animated shorts that follow obviously made a huge impression on him. In fact I’d go so far as to say that, apart from the obsessive Borowczyk cinephile, the individual who will get the most out of these weird pieces is someone who knows Gilliam’s films very well indeed. I could certainly spot influences on not just his Monty Python cartoons, but THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1988) and others.

The short films kick off with RENAISSANCE (1964), in which a room rots in reverse, restoring itself in a rather charming manner until it gets destroyed again at the end. Other gems include GAVOTTE (1968), in which two ‘persons of diminished stature’ dressed in 18th century costume fight over cushions in a comedy routine that’s both delightful and clever in its effective use of its harpsicord accompaniment; ROSALIE (1966) adapted from a Guy De Maupassant story about a woman on trial for the murder of her new-born infant; ASTRONAUTS (1959) a very Gilliamesque animated piece using cut outs and photography and filmed with the collaboration of Chris Marker whose own LA JETEE was the inspiration for Gilliam’s TWELVE MONKEYS. There are plenty of others, some of which I didn’t understand at all, and others which weirded me out sufficiently that I’m not sure I want to watch them again.
There’s also a documentary about Borowczyk’s animated work entitled FILM IS NOT A SAUSAGE, three commercials by the director, a visual essay by Daniel Bird and some reversible sleeve art.
Not something that is likely to appeal to the casual fan, SHORT FILMS & ANIMATION nevertheless provides an excellent showcase of macabre, surreal and reality-warping subjects from a director whose work has never been less than interesting. Well done Arrow.

Arrow Films are bringing out WALERIAN BOROWCZYK - SHORT FILMS AND ANIMATIONS on dual format Region Free Blu-ray and (presumably region free also) DVD on 8th September 2014

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