Walerian Borowczyk

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Walerian Borowczyk
Walerian Borowczyk.jpg
Born (1923-09-02)2 September 1923
Kwilcz, Poland
Died 3 February 2006(2006-02-03) (aged 82)
Paris, France
Occupation Film director
Years active 1946 - 1988

Walerian Borowczyk (2 September 1923 – 3 February 2006) was an internationally known Polish film director described by film critics as a 'genius who also happened to be a pornographer'. He directed 40 films between 1946 and 1988. Borowczyk settled in Paris in 1959. His career as a film director was mainly in France.[1]


Born in Kwilcz near Poznań, Borowczyk studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, then devoted himself to painting and lithography,[2] including the creation of posters for the cinema,[3] which earned him a national prize in 1953. His early films were surreal animations, some only a few seconds long, including several comic abecedaria. His most acclaimed early films were Był sobie raz (Time Upon a Once) (1957) and Dom (House) (1958, with Jan Lenica).

The house in Le Vésinet near Paris where the artist lived his last thirty years

In 1959, Borowczyk emigrated to France and settled in Paris. He worked with Chris Marker for Les Astronautes. Major works of this period include the stop motion film Renaissance (1963), which uses reverse motion to depict various destroyed objects (a prayer book, a stuffed toy, etc.) re-assembling themselves, only to be destroyed again when the last object (a bomb) is complete, and the nightmarish Jeux des anges (1964), selected by Terry Gilliam as one of the ten best animated films of all time.[4] In 1967, he directed his first animated feature film, Théâtre de Monsieur & Madame Kabal: un film dessiné pour les adultes (Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre).

Borowczyk moved into live-action feature film with Goto, l'île d'amour (Goto, Isle of Love) (1968) and Blanche (1971), both tales of illicit love thwarted by jealous husbands, and both starring his own wife, Ligia Branice. One of his most appreciated films of this period, Dzieje grzechu (A Story of Sin) (1975), which was nominated for Palme d'or, is an adaptation of a Polish literary classic by Stefan Żeromski. Like his 1966 short film Rosalie (a Guy de Maupassant adaptation and a Silver Bear winner), Dzieje grzechu had successfully rendered the themes of seduction and infanticide. Contes immoraux (Immoral Tales) (1974) and his later work, including Interno di un convento (Behind Convent Walls) (1977) (inspired by Promenades dans Rome of Stendhal) and Cérémonie d'amour (Rites of Love) (1988) have been controversial, lauded by some for their unique surrealist vision and derided by others as contentless pornography. Especially, La Bête (The Beast, 1975) (based on the novel Lokis by Prosper Mérimée and originally conceived in 1972 as a film on its own, but then in 1974 as the fifth story in Contes immoraux) was seen by many as a decline in the director's career after Dzieje grzechu, except in France, where it was hailed by prominent critics such as Ado Kyrou. His 1980 film Lulu was based on the eponymous character created by Frank Wedekind.

In 1981, he made Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (Blood of Dr Jekyll), a version of the Jekyll and Hyde story starring Udo Kier and Patrick Magee and depicting Jekyll's transformation as a violent rebellion against the Victorian morality. In his 1988 book Nightmare Movies, Kim Newman described the film as "dark, misanthropic and interestingly offensive". He made a brief return to animation with his 1984 short film Scherzo infernal. In 1987, he directed Emmanuelle 5, an installment of the Emmanuelle series, that was also released in a hardcore video-only version. He was unhappy with the project due to a dispute concerning the casting of lead actress Monique Gabrielle. In 1988 and 1990, he directed four episodes for the series Série rose: Les Chefs d’œuvre de la littérature érotique on M6.

Many of Borowczyk's films use historical settings, including Ars Amandi: l'arte di amare (The Art of Love) (1983), set in the time of Ovid (and featuring the poet as a character); Blanche, set during the Middle Ages; and three of the four episodes in Contes immoraux, set respectively in the nineteenth century, the sixteenth century, and the Borgia papacy.

A number of his films (like the "tale" La Marée (The Tide) in Contes immoraux, the 1976 La Marge (The Streetwalker), the episode Marceline in Les Héroïnes du mal: Margherita, Marceline, Marie (Immoral Women) (1979), and Cérémonie d'amour were based on stories by André Pieyre de Mandiargues. A less usual product of this cooperation was Une collection particulière of 1973, a representation of Borowczyk's collection of pornographic items, with Mandiargues having written (and read) the narration.

Borowczyk was the author of two books; Anatomia diabła (Anatomy of Devil) (1992) and Moje polskie lata (My Polish Years) (2002).

He died of heart failure in Paris in 2006, aged 82.


Source: Jan Strekowski (April 2004), Walerian Borowczyk (bio, filmography). Adam Mickiewicz Institute Culture.pl. Retrieved April 27, 2013.

Animated films and documentaries[edit]

•1946 Sierpień / Mois d'août (approx. one minute). Poland

•1949 Głowa / The Head, short feature film (approx. one minute). Poland

•1949 Magik / The Magician (approx. one minute). Poland

•1950 Tłum / The Crowd (approx. one minute). Poland

•1955 Żywe fotografie/ Photographies Vivantes short documentary made in Paris. Poland

•1955 Jesień / Autumn, short feature film. A melancholy stroll in an empty park in the autumn, where colourful summer returns suddenly for a moment. Poland

•1955 Atelier de Fernand Leger, short documentary film made in Gif-sur-Yvette, France, at the studio of Fernand Léger. Poland

•1957 Dni Oświaty / Education Days (with Jan Lenica), for the Polish newsreel service. Poland

•1957 Strip-Tease (with Jan Lenica) approx. 3-minute animated film for the Polish newsreel service. Poland

•1957 Był sobie raz / Once Upon a Time (with Jan Lenica), animated film (cut-outs and cartoons). The film was made using the simplest graphic means: geometric figures cut out of coloured paper, together with a collage of figures cut out from old magazines. It played with form, but this play was subordinated to deeper subtexts. (Awards: 1957 - 7th International Festival of Documentaries and Short Films, Venice, Silver Lion of St. Mark in the experimental film category, Polish Festival of Animated Films Warsaw, Third Prize; 1958 - "Warsaw Mermaid" award from Polish critics for the best short film in 1957, 7th International Festival of Documentaries and Educational Films Mannheim, First Prize - Gold Ducat) Poland

•1957 Nagrodzone Uczucia / Love Requited (with Jan Lenica) in the repollero technique (unanimated boards). About the work of the naive painter J. Plaskociński. A playful tale about the requited love of a shy young man. Poland

•1958 Dom / House (with Jan Lenica) - combined (some animated shots). Featuring the director's wife, Ligia Branice-Borowczyk. Urszula Czartoryska wrote that House was characterized by "a free, loose structure, preference for inanimate objects and non-artistic creations of man, use of real objects, close-to-surrealist overall atmosphere". (Awards: 1958 - Grand Prix at the Expo-58 Brussels International Experimental Film Competition) Poland

•1958 Szkoła / School, short film, combined technique. Animated photographs (made together with Jan Lenica) with elements of animated cartoon. A display of military drill. Aleksander Jackiewicz wrote ("Film" 27/1967): "an excellent tale made in the technique of animated photographs - about people, drill and the army: a tale about the man robot, always ready, made up of a uniform and a rifle, composed solely of deliberate movements". (Awards: 1960 - 6th International Festival of Short Films, Oberhausen, special mention) Poland

•1958 Sztandar młodych / Banner of Youth (with Jan Lenica) - animated, approx. 3-minute cartoon encouraging viewers to read "Sztandar Młodych", made at the Documentary Film Studio (WFD). Poland

•1959 Les astronautes / The Astronauts (dir. with Chris Marker), short, mixed technique. Drawings and old engravings. Shots edited and copied into one another, interlaced with drawn elements. A funny science-fiction film about space travel. The story of an amateur astronaut and his tawny owl travelling in a cardboard spaceship. (Awards: 1960 - International Film Festival Oberhausen, FIPRESCI Prize) France

•1959 Terra incognita, animated film in which Borowczyk utilized Alexandre Alexeieff's pioneering idea of using pins to achieve a shadow and movement effect. Black and white. France

•1959 Le magicien / The Magician, animated film. An amusing story about a man and his unruly top hat that changes form. France

•1959 La tète / Head. France

•1959 La foule. France

•1959 Les Stroboscopes: Magasins du XIX Siecle / Stroboscopes: 19th Century Stores. France

•1960 L'écriture / Writing. France

•1961 La Boîte à Musique / The Music Box, animated film. France

•1961 Solitude. France

•1961 Les bibliothèques / Libraries. France

•1961 Les écoles / Schools. France

•1962 Le concert de M. et Mme Kabal / The Concert of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal, animated short. Slapstick comedy. France

•1962 La fille sage / A Well-Behaved Girl, animated film. France

•1963 L'Encyclopedie de grand-maman en 13 volumes / Grandmother's Encyclopaedia, animated short. A playful film made using etchings from the Art Nouveau period. Between surrealism and Monty Python. France[5]

•1963 Renaissance, animated short. Featuring real objects that are destroyed, and thanks to reversing the tape are then restored to existence. Aleksander Jackiewicz ("Film" 27/1964): "This is the story of matter being reborn after a catastrophe". (Awards: 1963 -International Film Festival Tours, Jury's special prize) France

•1963 Holy Smoke. France

•1963 Gancia. France

•1964 Les jeux des anges / The Game of the Angels, animated short. Abstract forms in a setting evocative of a concentration camp created by the universe. (Awards: 1964 - 10th International Days of Short Films, Tours, Jury's special prize and FIPRESCI Prize). France

•1964 Le musée / The Museum. France

•1965 Le dictionnaire de Joachim / Joachim's Dictionary, animated short. The self-destruction of an old wooden gramophone. (Awards: 1966 - International Film Festival Oberhausen, FIPRESCI Prize, International Film Festival Melbourne, Prize) France

•1965 Un été torride, an episode from the full-length film Le théâtre de Monsieur et Madame Kabal / Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre. France

•1966 Rosalie short feature film based on Guy de Maupassant's short story "Rosalie Prudent". Borowczyk's first short film fully his own. A white background, on it a face speaking about the murder of the newly born babies of the heroine - a seduced servant, played by Borowczyk's wife, Ligia Branice-Borowczyk, with one-second stills showing objects associated with murder and the crime in question, including a bundle of newspapers and rags, a garden spade, the seducer's picture, spread out on the judge's desk. (Awards: 1966 - International Film Festival Berlin, Silver Bear, 19th International Film Festival Locarno, youth jury's special mention for a short film; 1967 - 4th International Short Film Festival Kraków, Golden Dragon) France

•1966 Le petit poucet animated film. France

•1967 Dyptique, short feature film. (Awards: 1967 - International Film Festival Mannheim, Interfilm Award) France

•1967 Le Theatre de Monsieur et Madame Kabal / Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre, full-length animated film. Borowczyk's first full-length animated film "for adult and mature people", as the director said at the screening in 1967 ("Film" 40/1967). The dark and grotesque story of a married couple: the wife - a mechanical monster made up of iron parts, and her henpecked husband. When Mrs. Kabal eats a butterfly, she gets indigestion and her husband has to travel to his wife's insides to search for the cause of her illness. The film includes colour photographic inserts - Mrs. Kabal's dreams. France

•1967 Gavotte, short feature film (Awards: 1967 - International Film Festival Mannheim, Gold Ducat). France

•1969 Le phonographe, animated film. France

•1973 Une collection particulière, short documentary. A collection of erotic dolls and gadgets. France

•1975 Brief von Paris, medium-length documentary. France

•1981 Hyper-Auto-Erotic, short. France

•1981 Hayaahi, short. France

Feature films[edit]

•1968 Goto, l'île d'amour / Goto, Island of Love. On an island that survived an earthquake in the previous century, the bloodthirsty tyrant Goto reigns. One of his favourites, something of a monster, falls in love with the tyrant's beautiful wife. He kills her lover and the tyrant. But the woman of his dreams prefers death to life with a horrible dwarf. At the moment of death, she will find out he truly loved her. Featuring Ligia Branice-Borowczyk and Pierre Brasseur. (Awards: 1969 - Georges Sadoul Prize, France) France

•1971 Blanche, based on the play Mazepa by Juliusz Słowacki. A free adaptation, the setting being moved to mediaeval France. Forbidden love between a stepmother and her stepson leads to family tragedy. (Awards: 1972 - Berlin International Film Festival, Grand Prix) France

•1974 Contes immoraux / Immoral Tales. Four stories, including one about Erzsebet Bathory - Countess Dracula, and Lucrezia Borgia. The film was banned in France and was only shown after protests from a number of prominent figures. No wonder, because though visually beautiful, it is bloody and saturated with sex (in one of the stories, the heroine has intercourse with a gigantic cucumber). Borowczyk's first financial success. (Awards: 1974 - Le Prix de l'Age d'Or from the Royal Film Archive in Brussels) France

•1975 Dzieje grzechu / Story of a Sin, based on the novel by Stefan Żeromski. A faithful adaptation of Żeromski's novel. Noteworthy for its rich set design and attention to detail. The action took place in real interiors, and genuine paintings were hired for the film. Poland

•1975 La Bête / The Beast, based on motifs from Prosper Mérimée's short story Lokis. A young American woman is to marry a marquis, but a beast appears and falls in love with her. Borowczyk's variation on the fairy-tale material used in 1946 by Jean Cocteau in his film Beauty and the Beast. While that film was poetic, Borowczyk's is a horror story, or as someone wrote - a study of the power of animal sexuality (a gigantic penis on screen). Polish premiere in 1992. France

•1976 La marge / The Streetwalker or The Margin. France

•1977 Interno di un convento / Behind Convent Walls, based on motifs from Stendhal's Promenades dans Rome. Nuns' sexual life and fantasies behind convent walls. Italy

•1979 Les héroïnes du mal / Heroines of Evil. France

•1979 L'armoire, a segment of Collections Privées / Private Collections. France

•1980 Lulu, based on motifs from the play by Frank Wedekind. France-Germany-Italy

•1982 Docteur Jekyll et les femmes, based on motifs from Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Erotic horror film. On the eve of his wedding, mysterious murders take place at Jekyll's house. All this is accompanied by sex and a gigantic penis on screen. (Awards: 1981 - Catalonian IFF Sitges, Catalonia, Clavel Medalla Sitges en Plata de Ley Dorda) France

•1983 Ovide: L'art d'aimer / Ars Amandi. An interpretation of the famous poem by Ovid. France-Italy

•1986 Emmanuelle 5 (directed with Steve Barnett, script written with Alex Cunningham and Howard R. Cohen), based on Emmanuelle Arsan's novel Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman. Emmanuelle is kidnapped from her yacht in Cannes and imprisoned in a harem by an Arab sheikh. France

•1986 Le lotus d'or, episode of "Série Rose" (TV series). France

•1988 Cérémonie d'amour / Love Rites. A prostitute's client starts obsessively spying on her. France

•1990 Almanach des adresses des demoiselles de Paris and Un traitement merité, episodes of "Série Rose" (TV series). France

•1991 L'experte Halima, episode of "Série Rose" (TV series). France

Other: Together with Szymon Bojko, Walerian Borowczyk also co-wrote the script for the documentary Sztuka ulicy [Street Art] (1958), directed by Konstanty Gordon. He made trailers for his feature films, including Goto, Island of Love and Blanche.


  1. ^ Margalit Fox, Walerian Borowczyk, The New York Times 2006 obituary.
  2. ^ Lithograph by Borowczyk at Desa auction house, 2003.
  3. ^ Walerian Borowczyk film posters at CinemaPoster.com gallery.
  4. ^ Gilliam, Terry (April 27, 2001). "Terry Gilliam Picks the Ten Best Animated Films of All Time". The Guardian. 
  5. ^ "Borowczyk's Grandma's Encyclopedia: watch a restored clip ahead of the Kinoteka Polish film festival - video". Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media). 2014-04-16. Retrieved 2014-04-19. With Grandma's Encyclopedia Walerian Borowczyk made an artform out of animating cutouts from a Victorian reference book. In this clip A is for Automobile as a field of wacky racers attempt to best each other on the track. 

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