MUBI, a curated subscription video-on-demand service dedicated to independent and foreign movies, currently programs a 10-film series on Walerian Borowczyk. In Paris, some of his movies are screened from February 24th to March 19th at Centre Prompidou. This Polish-born director has worked a lot with Anatole Dauman (an important producer of Nouvelle Vague movies such as Hiroshima mon amour or Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle). His career is divided in two parts: first some avant-garde films, then some controversial movies: his earlier work had a certain erotic quality while his last films were more akin to cheap pornography.
Regrettably, his work for television is less known. In the 1980s, he was asked by Pierre Grimblat to take part in the creation of Série rose, a French television drama dedicated to on-screen adaptation of erotic classics. Walerian Borowczyk directed four episodes, between 1986 and 1991. It is interesting to note that Pierre Grimblat, like Borowczyk in a way, was a member of the Nouvelle Vague movement1. One of his first television productions, Série noire (1984-1989), was clearly influenced by Nouvelle Vague aesthetics, one episode was even written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard2.
Although Série Rose was broadcasted on FR3, a lot of Grimblat productions3 were broadcasted on French channel TF1 whose Entertainment Division was headed by Claude de Givray, another Nouvelle Vague filmmaker. Of course one often tends to work with previous acquaintances, but there may be something deeper than just old habits to explain such lingering influence.
Though the story of the relationships between the Nouvelle Vague and French television has yet to be written, Walerian Borowczyk’s work represents a milestone which would deserve a fuller analysis. It is thus lamentable that while both retrospectives give the opportunity to (re)discover his cinematic production, his television work remains completely absent, as if his small screen creations did not deserve mention and were a “lesser” form of expression.
It is a pity, because comparing his television and cinematographic bodies of work reveal several common features. First, we can note the literary influence: Contes immoraux, La Marge, Dr Jekyll et les femmes and L’Art d’aimer are, partly or entirely, book adaptations. Walerian Borowczyk also worked on several screenplays with the French writer André Pieyre de Mandiargues (1967 Goncourt Prize). As stated earlier, each episode of Série rose was also an on-screen adaptation of erotic classics. Borowczyk’s sources of choice are thus similar in both screens, but the link between television and cinema goes even further as we can even find common patterns. His cinema develops a fetishistic attention to detail, especially regarding erotic objects (see MUBI’s essay on the subject). The same treat is also developed in Série rose, and quite apparent in the episode entitled « Le Lotus d’or ». In it, he had to recreate a Chinese brothel from the 12th century. The whole set shows an extreme attention to detail and a strong will to create a strange exotic and erotic atmosphere (unencumbered with any historical accuracy) in order to disorient and dazzle the audience, such as when one servant, an accomplished acrobat, is shown juggling with sex toys! Walerian Borowczyk’s influence on Série Rose attracted good reviews at the time and his movie director’s credentials provided an artistic veneer to this late night show.
Thirty years later, despising mainstream television creations and rejecting “made for TV” content produced by filmmakers as anecdotical (or worse, as only driven by profit) is still common. At a time when we praise content producers and broadcasters like HBO or Netflix – whose employ of directors like David Fincher, Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese is supposedly novel – Walerian Borowczyk’s ancient example shows us how screens big and small have long contributed to each other, and why it might be time to adopt a new perspective to better understand their respective influences.
Retrospective “The many sins of Walerian Borowczyk” on MUBI (online), showing February 12 – June 18, 2017 in the United States and in many other countries around the world.
Retrospective “Walerian Borowczyk” at Centre Pompidou (Paris, France), screenings February 24 – March 19, 2017.
- For example, his first film Me faire ça à moi was written with François Truffaut. [↩]
- “Grandeur et décadence d’un petit commerce de cinéma” [↩]
- He was a very important television producer between the 1970s and the 2000s in France. [↩]