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18 March 2018: Walerian Borowczyk: Documentaries


Borowczyk’s short documentaries, produced concurrently to his entry into the world of feature filmmaking, are formally radical and conceptually surreal, touching on sentient objects and unlikely eroticism. Introduced by Daniel Bird.

Walerian Borowczyk
1967 | 12 min | Colour | Digital
French with English subtitles

Diptych stands in many ways as the cornerstone of Borowczyk’s inimitable approach to cinema. Here, he presents two seemingly distinct “panels.” In the first, we see an old farmer, accompanied by his knackered dog, riding a clapped-out jalopy back home. Shot handheld with direct sound in grainy black and white, it makes a stark contrast to the second panel, which features a succession of tableaux vivants in startling colours, featuring houseplants and kittens playing against an aria from Bizet’s Carmen. While total opposites both in terms of form and style, the two panels nevertheless constitute a unified whole.

A Private Collection
Walerian Borowczyk
1973 | 12 min | Colour | Digital
French with English subtitles

A Private Collection is not just a documentary on antiquated erotic paraphernalia but rather a description and reflection on predominantly Western sexual mores. Featuring both a commentary and the guiding hands of surrealist writer André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Borowczyk playfully switches between visual media: perverted sculpture, clandestine painting, Belle Époque photography, a magic lantern show, a cartoon, and archival film.

Venus on the Half-Shell
Walerian Borowczyk
1975 | 5 min | Colour | Digital

A spritely parade of Bona de Mandiargues’ erotic crayon drawings to the sound of Romanian flutes.

Letter from Paris
Walerian Borowczyk
1976 | 40 min | B/W | Digital

In 1976 Borowczyk was commissioned by ZDF’s Eckart Stein to make an experimental portrait portrait of his adopted home, Paris. Shooting on 16mm film cartridges using a compact, clockwork Krasnogorsk movie camera, Borowczyk presents the French capital as an urban hell. Unlike the "city symphonies" of Vertov and Ruttmann, there is no optimism here, but rather the loneliness of an atomised, overly mechanical and resoundingly consumerist society. A brief glimpse of a giant billboard advertising The Margin testifies to the sheer range of Borowczyk’s vision.

The Greatest Love of all Times
Walerian Borowczyk
1978 | 10 min | Colour | Digital

A hectically spliced, slice in the life of Paris based Serbian surrealist, Ljuba Popović. As with Letter from Paris, Borowczyk nimbly shoots Ljuba at work using a compact 16mm Russian Krasnogorsk camera. Edited in an almost stream of consciousness fashion to the sounds of Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture, The Greatest Love of all Times harks back to Borowczyk’s beginnings not just as a painter, but also a keen documentarian of artists (e.g. Atelier de Fernand Léger, 1954).

Happy Toy
Walerian Borowczyk
1979 | 3 min | Colour | Digital

This short film by Walerian Borowczyk was made in 1979 but is so little known that when it was rediscovered in 2014 it had not been included in any of his filmographies. Of all Borowczyk’s films, this is the one that most clearly shows his love of early cinema and pre-cinema, in this case Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope.

Part of our season on Walerian Borowczyk