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Walerian Borowczyk retrospective at the ICA and BFI Southbank in May

18 March 2014

The 12th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival will stage the first major UK retrospective of Walerian Borowczyk, celebrating the remarkable life and work of one of Eastern Europe’s most dazzling and hair-raising multi-talented artists.

This year, KINOTEKA invites you to rediscover the amazing work of painter, sculptor and filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk (1923-2006) with the first major UK retrospective celebrating his prolific body of work, focusing on his artwork, early shorts, ground breaking animations and live-action features, many of which have been rarely seen or previously unseen in the UK.

For the first time, BFI Southbank and the ICA will be jointly holding a retrospective in partnership with KINOTEKA featuring newly restored prints, made available by Arrow Films, of this remarkable and often controversial artist, described by film critic and historian David Thomson as "one of the major artists of modern cinema, (and) arguably the finest talent that East Europe has provided".

In addition, the ICA will also be hosting the first UK exhibition of Borowczyk’s artwork in the Fox Reading Room. Given unprecedented access to his archive, the exhibition features works on paper, including Borowczyk’s inimitable graphics and preliminary work for his animations as well as his remarkable wooden sound sculptures and rarely seen photos and other archival material. Taking centre stage is Borowczyk's 1964 animation, Angels’ Games to be screened in the cinema. The film features barren lunar landscapes, windowless spaces and mutilated angels, capturing many of the aesthetic tropes and themes found in his oeuvre as a whole. To complement the exhibition the ICA Cinema will also screen two shorts programmes, one based on the 1965 Camera Obscura exhibition at Le Ranelagh in Paris, curated by Walerian Borowczyk.

Career Retrospective Cinema of Desire, The Films of Walerian Borowczyk, developed in collaboration with Borowczyk specialist Daniel Bird, runs throughout May at BFI Southbank and the exhibition Walerian Borowczyk: The Listening Eye takes place at the ICA from 20 May-29 June.

About the retrospective, Daniel Bird producer of the new restorations said:

"The process of researching and restoring these films has been decades in the making and a real labour of love for me. Thanks to Ligia Borowczyk, Arrow Films as well as everybody who took part in the Kickstarter campaign to restore Goto, Island of Love, we are now finally in a position to rediscover Borowczyk's work and reevaluate his contribution to film history."

Born in Poland in 1923, Borowczyk trained in painting and sculpture, at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, a background that greatly influenced his approach to filmmaking. Whilst at the Academy he befriended the poet Taduesz Rozewicz, became acquainted with art historian and painter Andrzej Wroblewski and met his lifelong muse, a beautiful noblewoman whom he subsequently cast in many of his classic short films and features, Ligia Branice.

At the height of Stalinism, Borowczyk won the National Prize for his lithographic cycle on the construction of the Nowa Huta district of Krakow, before establishing himself as one of the key artists of the Polish Poster school of the 1950s. During the late 1950s, he joined forces with another poster artist, Jan Lenica, to make a handful of short films that would revolutionize animation not just in Poland, but around the world. Throughout his career, Borowczyk became associated with key figures in both the Polish and French avant garde, including Jan Lenica, cine-essayist Chris Marker, and electro-acoustic composer Bernard Parmegiani, as well as leading Surrealists such as André Breton, André Pieyre de Mandiargues and Max Ernst.

Borowczyk emigrated to France in 1959 where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. He produced a procession of short films that both wowed audiences and defied classification. His early short Renaissance paved the way for Czech animator Jan Svankmajer whilst Angels’ Games prompted Amos Vogel to acclaim it as a brilliant, disturbing imagining of holocaust hell, which was not just a masterpiece of not just cinema, but modern art per se. The film also marks the beginning of Borowczyk's collaboration with Bernard Parmegiani, a protégé of musique concrète pioneer Pierre Schaeffer. Here, Parmegiani's shrill, chilling sounds mesh effortlessly with Borowczyk's desolate, nihilistic imagery to create a perfect union of senses.

By the end of the 1960s, Borowczyk effortlessly moved from dazzling shorts to liveaction features, making a name as an international talent, first with the unique The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, and then with Goto, Island of Love. In France, Cahiers du Cinema devoted a whole issue to Borowczyk, while in the United Kingdom his work served as a catalyst, inspiring a whole generation of artists including Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, the Quay Brothers, feminist fabulist Angela Carter, not to mention poster maestro Andrzej Klimowski and fine artist Craigie Horsfield.

Meanwhile, the Communists in Poland banned Goto, as did the Fascist regime in Franco’s Spain - it would seem that while Borowczyk favoured hermetic fantasy over concrete reality, he was, nevertheless, a dab hand when it came to touching nerves. With the utmost attention to sights, sounds and textures, Borowczyk’s cinematic fables of desire are truly astonishing works of art, firmly rooted in the belief that artists should be able to work in complete freedom.

Blanche, Borowczyk’s adaptation of Juliusz Slowacki’s Romantic drama Mazepa, changed the way films about the Medieval period were made, with its fresco live mise-en-scene, not to mention the stunning arrangement of ancient music taken from the Carmina Burana song book. However, when Borowczyk presented ‘a work in progress’ at the 1973 edition of the London Film Festival, things would never quite be the same again.

Before the screening, many filmgoers regarded Borowczyk as one, if not the finest talent to have emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. However, after the screening, many of the spectators who had witnessed Immoral Tales, a portmanteau film dealing with eroticism through the ages, felt duped. Was it the work of a master prankster? Or, was this sexually explicit satire something altogether more transgressive? Matters were further complicated by Borowczyk’s next film, his one and only Polish feature, A Story of Sin, a passionate adaption of a novel by Stefan Zeromski, that proved to be an international box office smash not to mention a headache for the Catholic Church. Then there was The Beast, an outrageous, operatic farce which pitted bourgeois vanity against monstrous, animal lust.

While he decried being labelled the maker of sex films, Borowczyk nevertheless explored eroticism as a serious theme, not least the remarkable The Margin, in which a grief stricken trader allows himself to be engulfed by the allure of an icy prostitute against the backdrop of a hellish Paris.

By the early 1980s, Borowczyk was, once again, consigned to the underground, where he unleashed arguably his most mischievously perverse film, the utterly insane The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne. Misunderstood for decades, Borowczyk is a filmmaker not only ahead of his time, but whose films are still capable of tickling, rattling and, quite often, completely unnerving film-goers supposedly inured to the erosion of taboo. KINOTEKA's retrospective gives contemporary audiences a chance to view Borowczyk’s iconography afresh, to be swallowed by the riot of on screen objects, bodies and animals, in his inexcusably opulent fantasies as a whole encompassing his films, paintings, sculptures, and animation, contributing grounds to reclaim his position as a titan of world cinema.

Borowczyk’s unique, provocative work and tangled, puzzling career gives the curious mind much to chew over, offering innumerable points of conversation - and heated debate. BFI Southbank is hosting a special day, Borowczyk: A Forum (18 May) to put his work into context. With a mixture of short presentations, indepth discussion and screenings, the forum will endeavour to consider a variety of the many angles from which we can look at Borowczyk’s work, and will include contributions from season curator Daniel Bird, writer Michael Brooke, and academics Ewa Mazierska and Jonathan Owen. BFI Southbank will welcome Cherry Potter and Peter Graham, both of whom knew and worked with Borowczyk as part of this forum.

In addition, writer Kuba Mikurda and illustrator Kuba Woynarowski will come from Poland to present a richly illustrated and highly original talk Eyetraps and Fetishes: On Borowczyk’s Objects (19 May), at the BFI Reuben Library. Using ideas from psychoanalysis, surrealism and alchemical writings they will explore how objects in Borowczyk’s work constantly escape their utilitarian and narrative functions to become characters in their own rights, promising a fascinating and unique insight into the season.

Arrow Films have overseen the extensive restoration work of most of the films that will screen in the KINOTEKA season. Arrow Academy’s box set release of Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection (30 June) brings together key films from the artist’s twenty five year period stretching from 1959 through to 1984. This release will include The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, Goto, Island of Love, Blanche, Immoral Tales and The Beast as well as his ground-breaking shorts. Not only will many of these films available on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time, but also in new digital high definition restorations approved by the director’s widow, Ligia Branice. Accompanying this seminal release will be exclusive documentaries, a book edited by Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke featuring newly commissioned essays on Borowczyk’s films and art, as well as an account of the meticulous restoration process involved plus for the first time, an English translation of Borowczyk’s 1992 collection of short stories, Anatomy of the Devil, translated by the director's assistant, Michael Levy.

The 12th KINOTEKA Polish Film Festival returns for a bumper month long edition (24th April – 30th May), showcasing the best of Polish Cinema, music and visual arts with audiences across London and the UK. This year’s programme is an inspiring, diverse mix of screenings, including UK premieres, exhibitions, concerts, interactive workshops and masterclasses.

KINOTEKA is presented by the Polish Cultural Institute in association with the festival sponsor, MyFerryLink and supported by the Polish Film Institute and the National Film Archive. The full festival programme will be announced on 20 March.


Cinema Of Desire: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk BFI Southbank

Thu 1 May, 6:20pm NFT1 (Introduced by Ian Christie) | Tue 20 May, 8:40pm NFT2

Goto, Island of Love
France 1968. Dir Walerian Borowczyk. With Guy Saint-Jean, Pierre Brasseur, Ligia Branice.
93min. Digital. EST. 15

A petty thief works his way up the absurd hierarchy of Goto, an archipelago cut off from civilization by a tumultuous earthquake. His dream is to possess Glossia, a stifled beauty trapped in a loveless marriage to a melancholic dictator. Originally banned in Communist Poland and Franco’s Spain, Goto, Island of Love features bizarre sights, poetic flashes of colour and the stunning deployment of Händel’s organ concerto.

Plus Angels’ Game
France 1964. Dir. Walerian Borowczyk. 12min
A brutal, chilling and frequently erotic evocation of concentration camp horror.

Sat 3 May, 9:00pm NFT2 | Thu 29 May, 6:10pm NFT3 (Introduced by David Thompson)

The Margin
France 1976. Dir Walerian Borowczyk. With Sylvia Kristel, Joe Dallesandro.
95min. 35mm. EST. 18
An uptight salesman loses himself in the arms of an ethereal prostitute in a headlong rush towards the end of the night... Featuring the best performance of Sylvia Kristel (the Emmanuelle girl) as well as a stoic turn by Warhol favourite Joe Dallesandro, Borowczyk’s most atypical film rivals Taxi Driver in terms of rendering urban life as a seedy inferno. An eclectic soundtrack features 10cc, Chopin, Elton John and Pink Floyd.

Plus Diptych
France 1967 Dir. Walerian Borowczyk. 8min
Two film ‘panels’,antithetical in form and style, combine to make a unified whole.

Tue 6 May, 6:15pm NFT1 | Tue 27 May, 8:45pm NFT1

The Beast
France 1975. Dir Walerian Borowczyk. With Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Humel, Guy Trejan, Marcel Dalio.
104min. Digital. EST. 18

crumbling mansion by marrying off his deformed son to a horny American heiress. Drawing on the legends surrounding the beast of Gévaudan, Prosper Mérimée’s novella Lokis and Freud’s ‘Wolf Man’, The Beast is an erotic black farce hellbent on trampling every pretence of ‘good taste’. In The Beast, the only decorum and restraint is to be found in Scarlatti’s harpsichord music.

Plus Venus on the Half Shell
France 1975 Dir.Walerian Bororwczyk. 5min
A spritely parade of erotic snail drawings set to Romanian flutes.

Wed 7 May, 6:00pm NFT1 | Mon 26 May, 8:20pm NFT3

A Story of Sin
Poland 1975. Dir Walerian Borowczyk. With Grazyna Długołęcka, Jerzy Zelnik, Roman Wilhelmi, Marek Walczewski.
124min. 35mm. EST. 15

Based on the novel by Stefan Zeromski, A Story of Sin is Borowczyk’s singular Polish feature film. Grazyna Długołecka plays Ewa Pobratyńska, the doomed heroine whose passion for a married anthropology student take her on a perilous journey across early twentieth century Europe. Casting a critical eye on the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, A Story of Sin counts as Borowczyk’s most passionate film, a delirious melodrama that reaches an ecstatic pitch.

Plus The Phonograph
France 1969 Dir.Walerian Borowczyk. 6min
An old phonograph assembles itself and plays songs on wax drums before self-destructing.

Sun 11 May, 6:10pm NFT1 | Fri 23 May, 8:40pm NFT3

Immoral Tales
France 1974. Dir Walerian Borowczyk. With Fabrice Luchini, Charlotte Alexandra, Paloma Picasso, Florence Bellamy
103min. Digital. EST. PG

Four episodes, each rolling back further into the annals of history, bound only by a maxim by La Rochefoucauld: Love pleases more by the ways in which it shows itself. A veritable cavalcade of depravity, Immoral Tales features cosmic fellatio, transcendental masturbation, blood-drenched lesbianism and papal incest. A box office smash in France, the film spent much of the 1970s embroiled in censorship problems around the world.

Plus A Private Collection
France 1973 Dir.Walerian Borowczyk. 12min
Borowczyk guides us through a collection of antiquated erotic paraphernalia.

Mon 12 May, 8:45pm NFT2 | Thu 29 May, 8:30pm NFT3

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne
France 1981. Dir Walerian Borowczyk. With Udo Kier, Marina Pierro, Patrick Magee, Howard Vernon.
95min. 35mm. EST. 18

Taking its cue from the legend that Stevenson’s cocaine fueled first draft of Dr Jekyll was burned by his prudish American wife on account of its sexual excess, Borowczyk sets up a chamber piece spanning just one night, where Henry Jekyll plunges into a bath of chemicals only for him to emerge as the monstrously endowed Mr Hyde... A masterpiece of surrealist cinema, Borowczyk mischievously flits between violent farce, bloody delirium and erotic frenzy.

Plus Scherzo Infernal
France, 1984 Dir.Walerian Borowczyk. 5min
The chance encounter between a rebel devil and a nubile angel.

Thu 13 May, 6:30pm NFT1 | Thu 22 May, 8:30pm NFT3

France 1971. Dir Walerian Borowczyk. With Ligia Branice, Michel Simon, Georges Wilson.
92min. Digital. EST. PG

Ligia Branice gives a heart rending performances as Blanche, the young, beautiful wife to an aging, senile baron, played by the legendary Swiss actor Michel Simon. When an amorous king pays a visit, not only does he fall under Blanche’s spell, but also his page, the infamous philander Monsieur Bartolomeo. Filmed by Borowczyk to resemble a Medieval fresco, Blanche also features stunning ancient musical arrangements drawn from the Carmina Burana song book.

Plus Rosalie
France 1966 Dir. Walerian Borowczyk. 15min
A servant girl confesses to smothering and burying her offspring.

Fri 16 May, 8:45pm NFT2 | Sun 18 May, 6:15pm NFT2

The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal
France 1967. Dir Walerian Borowczyk. 73min. Digital. EST. 15
Bizarre, grotesque and yet strangely moving, Borowczyk’s existential soap opera eschews dialogue (for the most part) and conventional narrative to evoke the highs and lows of married life. Set in a barren wasteland thinly populated by exotic flora and fauna, Borowczyk’s only animated feature (rendered in sparse, coarse and, for the most part, monochrome graphics) serves as a stiff antidote to Disney’s saccharine whimsy.

Plus Joachim's Dictionary
France 1965 Dir.Walerian Borowczyk. 9 min
Joachim offers audio-visual definitions of twenty six words.


Cinema of Desire: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk Special events

Sunday 18 May 2-5pm – NFT3

Borowczyk: A Forum
With a mixture of short presentations, in-depth discussion and screenings, this forum will endeavour to consider a variety of the many angles from which we can look at Borowczyk’s work, and will include contributions from season curator Daniel Bird, writer Michael Brooke, and academics Ewa Mazierska and Jonathan Owen. BFI Southbank will welcome Cherry Potter and Peter Graham, both of whom knew and worked with Borowczyk as part of this forum.

Monday 19 May, 18:30 in the BFI Reuben Library

Eyetraps and Fetishes: On Borowczyk’s Objects
Talented Polish writer Kuba Mikurda and illustrator Kuba Woynarowski to give a richly illustrated and highly original presentation that draws on their arresting visual essay on Borowczyk, Corpus Delecti, as well as their forthcoming film, from which they will preview clips. Using ideas from psychoanalysis, surrealism and alchemical writings they will explore how objects in Borowczyk’s work constantly escape their utilitarian and narrative functions to become characters in their own rights, promising a fascinating and unique insight into the wider season.

Walerian Borowczyk: The Listening Eye exhibition ICA, Reading Room 20, May-29 June

Including 2 special programmes of shorts to coincide with the show:

Saturday 24th May

Programme 1, 6:30pm, ICA Cinema 1 (based on the 1965 Camera Obscura exhibition at Le Ranelagh in Paris curated by Walerian Borowczyk.):

  • Renaissance (1963) 9 min
  • Once Upon A Time (1957) 9 min
  • Grandma’s Encyclopedia (1962) 6 min
  • House (1958) 11 min
  • School (1958) 7 min
  • The Concert (1962) 7 min
  • Banner of Youth (1957) 2 min
  • Strip-Tease (1957) 2 min
  • The Astronauts (1959) 12 min
  • Requited Feelings (1957) 8 min
  • Angels’ Games/The Games of Angels (1964) 14 min

Sunday 25th May

  • Programme 2, 6:30pm, ICA Cinema 1
  • Diptych (1967) 8 min
  • The Phonograph (1969) 6 min
  • Gavotte (1967) 12 min
  • Rosalie (1966) 15 min
  • A Private Collection (1972) 12 min
  • Joachim’s Dictionary (1965) 9min
  • Scherzo infernal (1984) 5 min

You can watch our interview with producer Daniel Bird here.