Laughter in the doll house. On Victorian surrealism and Walerian Borowczyk’s films words (not exactly) few.
Śmiech w domu lalek. O wiktoriańskim surrealizmie i filmach Waleriana Borowczyka słów (niezupełnie) kilka.

Kamila Wielebska
(This text was previously published in 'Obieg' magazine 1-2/2008).

"In this world let me have my world, to be damned with it or to be saved".
Richard Wagner, Tristan and Isolde

"It's in the trees, it's coming!".
Night of the Demon, 1957 / Hounds of Love 1985

My story, just like the story of life on Earth, ought to begin by the sea. And because I have no pretence to being able to grasp the entirety of things I will be talking about, the text can be treated as a suddenly-found-on-the-sand-during-a-walk-by-the-sea-scribbled-by-some-hand fragment. A part of something only, which we manage to hastily read before it gets licked off by the salty, glimmering waves. Or perhaps as a fragment of a-text-placed-by-someone-in-an-empty-bottle-and-drifting-peacefully-on, which we, immersed in the thoughts of the late afternoon walk, suddenly fish out… We catch it with uncertainty, as we cannot immerse ourselves in certainty right from the start that it was addressed to us. (But, perhaps, as some believe, everything happens in the right place and at the right time). What is behind the text? Can we penetrate it? Perhaps, as Deleuze says, we cannot discern that peculiar loneliness and peculiar sensitivity, the not necessarily clever goals of a dangerous existence, hiding behind that mask1.

This sea-side (or even within the sea) landscape is one of those typical to surrealism2. It is also one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s favorite „places” in this world „human, all to human”. It is also the „internal landscape” of a woman, as the sea and all of its creatures are soaked through with her smell. It is also here that the Contes Immoraux / Immoral tales by Walerian Borowczyk filmed in 1974 start, the first part of which entitled La Marée/ Tide is based on a short story by André Pieyre De Mandiargues. It opens with the motto: „Julie, my cousin, was sixteen, I was twenty, and that tiny difference in age made her docile to my commandments”3. These words seem a perfect introduction to a text devoted to the Borowczyk’s output, since – as most of his works – they inspire ambivalence: unnerving and repulsive, yet rousing interest, drawing somewhere deeper, further into the depths of that strange, unpredictable world. Will we find something for ourselves? I am concentrating here on films mostly, full-length features filmed between the late sixties and late eighties. The pretext for those were the discussions, which took place at the Ujazdowski Castle between the 23 – 26 January 2008 around a Borowczyk showcase and exhibition opening, and in which I had the pleasure to participate. To those who took part it became clear that the entire oeuvre of this artist represents a certain vision, manifesting itself in many guises (and consistent in its inconsistence). That is also why I have made the motto for my deliberations a quote from an opera libretto (presented first in Munich in 1865) based on the Celtic legend about the sad Tristan and golden-haired Iseult.

Because Walerian Borowczyk’s films usually have women as their main protagonists, my journey through his output will be accompanied by a text, the author of which confesses: “I write this as a woman, toward women”, and the fragments of which I will weave in to the fabric of my own writing. It is the Laughter of the Medusa/ Le rire de la méduse by Hélène Cixous, first published in 1975 in the „Arche” journal4.

These films, of which the main theme is the dense intertwining of love and erotica, lead us deep into the history of European culture, carrying us away on the serpent-like, velvety coil towards the song of the twelfth century troubadours. But this rootedness in tradition does not mean a contemplative calm sanctified by the blessed canon. Never! Looking for the source of contemporary love we arrive at the centre of an outrageous rebellion, into the heart of a radical revolt, known in those monastic times as Heresy.

Provencal troubadours, who, according to Joseph Campbell, were “the first ones in the West who really thought of love the way we do now - as a person-to-person relationship”5 joined the manichaean heresy of the albigenses. The delicate culture of their poetry was destroyed in one of the most cruel carnages on the European continent. Carried out by its inhabitants on its inhabitants it was part of a crusade initiated in 1209 by the Pope Innocent III5. To the arranged marriages forming part of the structure of the system of arranged marriages based on a contractual scheme, the troubadours responded with an idea of love as a selfless, sudden elation of the heart. As an idea, this was aimed against an economic policy in which a woman was but one of the objects exchanged between men, an idea going against the customs upheld by the church. As Campbell notices, AMOR is ROMA, the Roman Catholic church, spelled backwards6.

There have been poets who would go to any lengths to slip something by at odds with tradition – men capable of loving love and hence capable of loving others and of wanting them, of imagining the woman who would hold against oppression and constitute herself as a superb, equal, hence ‘impossible’ subject, untenable in a real social framework. Such a woman the poet could desire only by breaking codes that negate her. […] But only the poets – not the novelists, allies of representationalism. Because poetry involves gaining strength through the unconscious and because the unconscious, that other limitless country, is a place where the repressed manage to survive: women, or as Hoffmann would say, fairies.

Since we are in this strange place, a mysterious space without boundaries, it should not pose a difficulty to (using French poets as our guides) follow another trail and visit another ‘epoch’ – that of Surrealism. It is here that Bertrand Mandico and Pascal Vimenet, the French curators of the Warsaw exhibition, placed the “starting point” of Walerian Borowczyk’s oeuvre, giving the first night of discussion the title Avant-garde, surrealism: is everything cinema? During this debate, where we could observe great differences between the participants in their reading of surrealism in general (which were mainly to do with the surrealists’ treatment of love, and, following from that, women), I thought it paramount to offer the historical background of this movements reception in Poland, which undoubtedly helped us understand the differences implicating the conditions of cultural life here as well as in France.

Without going into detail, in pre-war Poland surrealism was absent as far as Polish art goes, we could talk about formal inspirations, using some rules of the aesthetic, rather than deeper involvement with the ideology of surrealism. As Krystyna Janicka writes: “[…] we cannot see a fully-fledged reception of surrealism, conscious and deep, and aware of all of its philosophical implications”8. Maria Hussakowska analyzing the articles published then on the subject points out that “[…] surrealism had not found a fertile ground in Poland. It was interpreted either as a literary school of thought and another avant-garde artistic movement, or as a certain outlook. Neither of those encompassed the entirety of the notion. He decisively negative attitude of the authors towards the problem can be explained by the socio-cultural situation of Poland in the initial years after the independence. […] In artistic life the competition in the first period of futurism and later constructivism was too strong. The broadest reach of surrealism can be seen in catastrophism […]”9. The post war reception of the movement (or rather on the international movement PHASES cooperating with surrealists and continuing their ideas) Jolanta Dąbkowska-Zydroń writes in her book that “[…] only after the second world war there occurred in Poland a phenomenon which could be seen as a conscious, fully marked and intelligible current with surrealist characteristics"10. Was it really so and has it been possible in post-war Poland to read correctly and accept the Marxism infused texts by Breton? In 1959 at the Krzysztofory Gallery in Kraków an exhibition painting by the international PHASES movement opened – in a sense continuing the ideas of surrealism and cooperating with the surrealists, in which 34 artists were featured, including three Poles: Marian Bogusz, Tadeusz Brzozowski and Jerzy Tchórzewski. The official articles published in the press of the day the political role of art was emphasized. During the opening the recording of Posłanie surrealistów do intelektualistów polskich/ A message of surrealists to Polish intellectuals by André Breton was played, in which the good friend of Trotsky [przeciwstawil], as Dąbkowska-Zydroń puts it “[…] the admirable attitudes of Polish intellectuals to the bourgeois impotence of French intellectual circles”11. Having said that, the Polish reality of the day was such, that Polish intellectuals could only dream of allowing themselves the “bourgeois impotence”. In the same year, 1959, Walerian Borowczyk abandoned this “paradise on earth” (as Breton perceived it) and moved permanently to France.

But let us go back in time again. French surrealism, by taking up the characteristic traits of the avant-garde – radicalism and revolutionary zeal, had also had to measure up to its great myths, including the faith in the innovativeness of artistic means and themes, as well as the possibility of creating a ‘better’ world. To the surrealists the thing that could abolish the rules that have so far held true was love and desire. But the object of surrealist love, mad love - l’amour fou – was to the male pack of surrealists a woman – a strange and astonishing creature, identified in their dreams and poetry with mysterious and wild nature, with that which resides in the subconscious. [The image that springs to mind is one of the scenes from Borowczyk’s 1987 film Emmanuel V: on a hot summer’s day, during the Cannes12 film festival, an actress leaving a building is being hounded by a pack of hungered men, who, ripping apart consecutive layers of her clothing, chase her all the way to the marina, where she salvages herself by desperately jumping aboard a yacht of a randomly met, romantic millionaire.] Paradoxically, while opposing the misogyny of their time, the bourgeois mores and the predominant social order, the surrealists were in their majority misogynes themselves. The woman they desired was condemned to their fetishizing, voyeuristic gaze, to which, reduced to the role of an exciting object, a fetish, she could not respond. As Sarah Wilson writes: “Despite the Surrealists' proclaimed desires for revolution, emancipation, free love, they resoundingly rejected the threatening New Woman of Paris, the Amazone, the garçonne, preferring their Muses, from Kiki de Montparnasse to Gala - and only the most compliant 'Americaines' ( Lee Miller ), whose modest, downcast eyes preluded the sexually ecstatic”13. There were of course artists such as Claude Cahun, whom Wilson calls „ a surrealist woman who was never a Muse” and “a pioneering code-scrambler”14. Claude Cahun – aware of the meaning of the photographic situation of „imprisonment” in a random frame, reducing the human being to their image, and playing with it.

And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. I know why you haven’t written. (And why I didn’t write before the age of twenty-seven).

Yet in 1944 the misogyne Breton writes: „The time might have come to valorize woman's ideas at the expense of those of man, whose bankruptcy has achieved a tumultuous climax today"15. Cherished by the surrealists and identified with woman the figure of doll/mannequin, which „from a subject turned into an object”16 slowly came to life and entered stage. Forty years on, in 1984 Donna Haraway (an art historian and primatologist) writes her jocular but seriously presented Cyborg Manifesto, “an ironic dream of a common language for women in the integrated circuit”17. As the author puts it: “By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. Thus cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers structuring any possibility of historical transformation”18. In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, done two years previously, the replicant slaves rebel when they achieve a level of development at which they are able to have the so-called higher feelings. The moral questions implicated by their presence are but another form of asking the age old ones, about the provenience of the right of some species and races to rule others. Does there always have to be a two-caste system of masters and slaves?

The story of that thought began in Switzerland, by the Geneva lake, where Mary Schelley-Wollstonecraft (the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the forerunner of feminism and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and William Godwin, the precursor of anarchism), her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord George Byron, both outstanding English romantic poets, would pass their evenings telling each other ghost stories. From those tales Frankenstein, or …Prometheus was born. Written in 1818, the book not only started the whole genre of horror, but – to quote Harraway once more – directed its criticism against „the [..]racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the productions of culture; the tradition of reproduction of the self from the reflections of the other”19 and against the (typical of this „male” tradition) customary evasion of responsibility for one’s deeds.

Yet this story about the male envy of the unattainable potential of giving life was not treated seriously in the male shaped world and ended up where it originated – amongst tales. What has been treated seriously, however, was another story of envy, concocted at the close of the next century by another science-fiction writer, amateur of ‘hard’ drugs, the famous doctor Freud. It is the story of envy perennially shaking the hysterical woman, hopeless and persistant as it is, the envy of the power insignia, of the exquisite Phallus. Freud’s ruminations obviously fit the Victorian drive to understand what cannot be understood, to subjugate to the powers of the mind the mysterious and uncharted side of the human nature, which only occasionally, in liminal moments, reveals the presence of a hairy, crouching animal, watching us from the bushes and grunting strangely. What conclusions may be drawn from ‘studying’ the subconscious through rational theory was amusingly shown in the films of Louis Buñuel. The answer is: any (and that clearly gives us no right to ‘dig’ in other people’s mind and soul). As Anti-Oedipus says: "A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst's couch. A breath of fresh air, a relationship with the outside world"20...

Here we encounter the inevitable man-with-rock, standing erect in his old Freudian realm, in the way that, to take the figure back to the point where linguistics is conceptualizing it ‘anew’, Lacan21 preserves it in the sanctuary of the phallus “sheltered” from castration’s lack!

The Victorian era, which I call up here, is of paramount importance to the works of Walerian Borowczyk. In his films (created as total works, over which he wanted to have full control, to which he built the decorations and, as many a close cooperator ascertains, and which he often dubbed with the exact, desired voices of men, women and animals himself) the fascination with the turn of the 19th and 20th century is clear, with the times often being the staffage of the stories being told. The films are full of strange Victorian objects (Une collection particuliè, 1973), tightly laced-up corsets, lace-up shoes with elongated, rounded tips (in Goto, the island of love, 1968 the sight of the shapely footwear does not leave us for even a moment, and we see it even in the moments of the protagonists highest distress), while beautiful young women fall head over heels in love with stiff-looking, refined Victorians in photographs, complete with their ridiculous moustache (Thérèse philosophe from Contes Immoraux, 1974). Is this but an aesthetic fascination, devoid of any deeper meaning?

In 1886 the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson published his Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Ever since, the dramatic tale of the human double nature and the impenetrable darkness of his soul has been gaining popularity and became an inspiration for many films. In 1981 Borowczyk also decided to use this novel. Le cas étrange du dr Jekyll et Miss Osbourne /The strange case of Doctor Jekyll and Miss Osbourne was made. It may be called a perfect work – for in just the 95 minutes of its duration, Borowczyk manages to settle the matters with all of the Victorian era, deconstructing this matrix, of which we are the lost children. Under the influence of a magic potion the main protagonist turns into a havoc-wreaking, criminal beast. The combination of science and mystery is characteristic of the times, where the belief in the omnipotence of the human mind allows to associate the technical achievements with a belief in the supernatural, in such a way that it becomes possible to photograph the beings arriving from the astral plane.

Another way of ‘taming’ the hairy beast of the subconscious is the one represented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who in his Sherlock Holmes novels, such as The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) explains in a rational way what to the less agile mind may seem like a doing of the dark supernatural powers. In his real life, Conan Doyle was a frequent participant of the Spiritist séances and after his death a photograph was taken on which we can see the writer himself materialize and, in an ectoplasm form, enter through the nose into the medium Miss Mary Marshall22. It should be added that the year was 1932, time of most real surrealism.) But let us go back to doctor Jekyll and his beautiful fiancée Miss Osbourne. She is the one to discover her lovers dark secret, who under the influence of the mysterious concoction lets all his criminal drives run wild. When Jekyll transforms himself into the monster no one is safe and everything terrifying is possible. The story is first and foremost the tale of the tragedy of the main protagonist, a part played by the great German actor Udo Kier (we should also note that while Udo Kier has many a time played the role of demonic villains, including Dracula himself, Borowczyk might have been the first to note the psychopathic trait in the physiognomy of Sir Anthony Hopkins, who was originally the choice for this part). The Strange Case... shows the dilemma of the contemporary man, who having torn himself apart in his own head finds no place to hide from his own self. No one to turn to, nowhere to hide. “No, don’t do this! There is no way back” – shouts the doctor to Miss Osbourne when she decides to follow her beloved. He cannot stop her, and she delights in the bath she takes in the strange brown liquid, stronger than the most potent drug, which releases the beast within. Can nothing protect us from the terror of the brown depth we have entered without any hope for redemption? Like the lovers in Liliana Cavani’s Night porter (1974), who in the last convulsions of passion deplete their famished bodies, doctor Jekyll and Miss Osbourne ruin the grim Vitorian house together. We then see them get into a carriage and drive off into the night, speeding off ahead with tousled hair, eyes aglow, smeared in blood and biting each other… Cavani’s protagonists also resemble vampires. When they walk, like two apparitions, two undead creatures, their last walk across the bridge (perhaps the very same bridge painted in 1893 by Edward Munch) we can hear an almost terrifying howl of an accursed dog, wandering on the moor with a burning wound in his werewolf heart.

It seems strange that despite all the horror of the heavy psychedelic film by Borowczyk, it is also in the majority of its duration rather funny. Watching it one cannot help but laugh, almost incessantly. And our laughter accompanies the subsequent deaths of the monster’s victims. One could think of Victo Hugo’s novel L'homme qui rit/The Man who Laughs (1869) about a man, whose face was deformed, his lips cut in his infancy in such a way that he always looks as though he is laughing. He carries forever the mark of the world’s cruel laughter.

But let us turn now to the heroines of Borowczyk’s films. Do they not personify what Laura Mulvey wrote about in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema? “The cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking, but it also goes further, developing scopophilia in its narcissistic aspect. […] In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looping has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determined male gaze projects its phantasy [sic!] on to the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact, so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. […] Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two levels: as erotic object for the chracters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks on either side of the screen”23. Women in Borowczyk’s films are clearly fetishized then, whilst also becoming victims, being hurt, perishing, dying (which could probably also be read as an additional stimulant). There are also a few female “dark characters”, like the heroine of one of the parts of the immoral tales, the seventeenth century countess, the eponymous Erzsebet Bathory (played by Paloma Picasso), a vampiress on the prowl for the blood of young virgins. Another clearly negative character is the female protagonist of Lulu (1980), a film based on Frank Wedekind’s two dramas [Earth Spirit (1895) and Pandora's Box (1902).] Lulu is a sort of perverse [Lolita], a scruple-less young person, leading astray the men who fall in love with her. But as the film moves on, we begin to understand that her attitude is in a sense a response to the hypocritical morality of the world she has come to live in, a cynical way of adapting to its mores. She is simply the product of enslavement by men – fulfilling the expectations directed at her, of male fantasies. This is the context in which we ought to view her sorry demise (and not as a moralizing punishment for her sins). Another man appears. However, this one will not be pleased with the usual “tricks” – he is the legendary Jack the Ripper, a character as mythical as another, active at the same time (and the same city) – Sherlock Holmes. (The latter was, obviously, a fictional character, while the crimes of Jack the Ripper were quite real and their perpetrator had never been caught; the question of who committed them was the source of much speculation – amongst others they were attributed to Lewis Carroll, many finding in his works cryptic descriptions of the murders24). In Borowczyk’s film, the part of Jack the Ripper was played, as though he “jumped in” from the previously discussed film, by the demonic Udo Kier, who seems to be the embodiment of the Teutonic element of vampiric expression. I have no way of knowing if this is ‘dead serious’ since, as with all of Walerian Borowczyk’s films, the artist leaves me uncertain whether he is being absolutely serious, or perhaps just being deadpan, with an ironic wink in my direction. He often seems to be doing a balancing act on the tightrope between solemnity and absurd, bringing a given mood or situation to its extreme (and therefore almost caricature) intensity. It seems reminiscent of the mood in the great works of German expressionist filmmakers – an association intensified perhaps by the physical resemblance between Udo Kier and Conrad Veidt, the unforgettable somnambule Ceasar in the brilliant Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari / The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) by Robert Wiene 25 (Conrad Veidt also played the part of the mutilated man in the Paul Leni adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs (1928), while the last film in his career, in which he had the part of a Nazi major, was the 1943 Casablanca!). As Francis Picabia writes about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in his Instantaneisme: “Many an entertaining film originated in America, only a few in France; Germany presented us with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as a masterpiece, a film, in my opinion, entirely ridiculous”26.

Laughs exude from all our mouths; our blood flows and we extend ourselves without ever reaching an end; we never hold back our thoughts, our signs, our writing; and we are not afraid of lacking.

One such embarrassing scene is the scene of oral sex with a prostitute to the soundtrack of Pink Floyd’s I wish you were here in the 1976 La Marge, based on the novel by André Pieyre de Mandiargues. The scene is as absurd as it is agonizing. It also brings back the theme, present in a few other films by Borowczyk, of prostitution (the lead Joe Dallesandro, an actor of Andy Warhol’s Factory, played a prostitute himself in the 1968 Paul Morrisey’s Flesh). But watching La Marge we do not get the impression that the director is in any way stigmatizing the life of those women. It is the man who pays for the services of one of them that seems a strange specimen of a weird breed. His story is a tale of an encounter of someone, who, it seems, has it all (but nonchalantly throws it away) with someone who having nothing and existing on the very bottom of life, retains her dreams naïve dreams of happiness.

Now women return from afar, from always: from without, from the Heath where witches are kept alive; from below, from beyond „culture”; from their childhood which men have been trying desperately to make them forget, condemning it to “eternal rest”. The little girls and their “ill-mannered” bodies immured, well-preserved, intact unto themselves, in the mirror. Frigidified. But are they ever seething underneath!

In a similar way as prostitutes – the sad products of culture, beings subjugated to the rules introduced by someone else, Borowczyk seems to look at the existence of those enclosed in a convent. In the 1977 Interno di un convento/ Behind Convent Walls we see a group of young women, full of life, who have been imprisoned in a way, destined by their families for a life in the convent. Subjected to the strict rigor, or rather trained like animals, they are being deprived of the power over the most intimate spheres of their lives, their right, over which they are in a continuous guerilla fight with the despotic mother superior – a female spy at the service of church patriarchs.

Men have committed the greatest crime against women. Insidiously, violently, they have led them to hate women, to be their own enemies, to mobilize their immense strengths against themselves, to be executants of their virile needs.

Borowczyk shows the power over another human being as a taming of the energy, a blocking of its free flow. The fate of the imprisoned women is symbolized in one of the scenes by butterflies (one of the habitual elements of Borowczyk’s work) – this time enclosed in a glass display cabinet. As Joseph Campbell says: “The gods are personifications of the energies that inform life — the very energies that are building the trees and moving the animals and whipping up the waves on the ocean. The very energies that are in your body are personified by the gods. [...] Now, a deity that is not recognized and revered and allowed to play into our conscious life becomes an idol. [...] The energy gets blocked and becomes what we call a devil. The deity goes into reverse and becomes a negative power, a threatening power”27.

Borowczyk’s film ends in tragedy: the main female protagonist, this part player by the director’s wife Ligia Branice, dies. She, just like the heroine of Goto, l’île d’amour / Goto, the island of love (1968) (played by the same actress) chooses death, rejecting a life in which love is impossible. It is love that is the main theme of Borowczyk’s films, even if it reveals itself only as a yearning, when the world presented by the artist is devoid of it. Goto, the island of love although it takes place in a place bringing to mind associations with the coarse Soviet Russia, is not really a film about a totalitarian regime. The “anti-fascism” which this film seems to profess, speaks to us in those word: Love is a thing, which cannot be bought, taken by force, or imprisoned. Love is a free bird! Love, the monster of all times. And, as one of the protagonists of Mother Joan of the Angels / Matka Joanna od Aniołów by Jerzy Kawalerowicz (1960) says: “Love is at the bottom of everything that happens in the world.”

My favorite Borowczyk film must probably be La Bête/The Beast (1975), which opens with a quite unusual scene of horses coupling. The story of the film is quite heavily embroidered. The toying with convention makes this horror a very funny film. The action takes place in a French chateu of an austere Marquis, the inhabitants of which are being attended on, as though by slaves, by black servants. At night, when everyone falls asleep, strange things begin to happen. The main props that we notice are the Podkowiński painting Szał uniesień/Frenzy of Exultations (1894) and a centrally placed chess-table (as Michel Pastoureau says: “The game of chess is not a game at all. It is a dream. A dream about the routes of the figures and the structure of the board. A dream about the world order and the destiny of man. A dream, in medieval vein, of everything that hides beyond the seeming reality of beings and things"28). In the woods surrounding the palace lurks a black hairy Beast. The heroine dreams a dream of a woman from a faraway time (we are being transported in to the 18th century), about her encounter with the Beast, which seems like the crown of male dreams. Seeing the woman wandering alone in the woods the beast exposes its large and black (but how sensitive and defenseless) penis. The woman, paradoxically, (but how conventionally) discovers pleasure in rape. Deceitfully led on, the Beast becomes a victim of a seemingly innocent praying mantis, who, having performed her maenadic ritual, runs away naked into a path in the woods, to tempt and provoke her next victims – defenseless Beasts, lost in the depths of the woods. The Beast is the fear of man of that, which he did not manage to tame, incapacitate, describe, classify, subject to his power and control.

Here they are, returning, arriving over and again, because the unconscious is impregnable. They have wandered around in circles, confined to the narrow room in which they’ve been given a deadly brainwashing. You can incarcerate them, slow them down, get away with the old Apartheid routine, but for a time only. As soon as they begin to speak, at the same time they’re taught their name, they can be taught that their territory is black: because you are Africa, you are black. Your continent is dark. Dark is dangerous. You can’t see anything in the dark, you’re afraid. Don’t move, you might fall. Moist of all, don’t go into the forest. And so we have internalized this horror of the dark. […]We the precocious, we the repressed of culture, our lovely mouths gagged with pollen, our wind knocked out of us, we are the labyrinths, the ladders, the trampled spaces, the bevies – we are black and we are beautiful.

But let us go back to the Immoral Tales, mentioned in the beginning. The first part, as has already been stated, is called La Marée, meaning rising tide, but the sea in French is feminine. André and his young cousin are going on a biking trip (a little bit like the protagonists of the Story of the Eye by Bataille). There is no carelessness here, however, as the trip had been planned up to the minute by the boy, who is taking Julie to the seaside for one reason only – he wants to give her a lecture on the phenomenon of the rising tide!

Jean Douchet, who took part in the discussion at Zamek Ujazdowski, a French critic, writing for the ‘Cahiers du cinéma’ and the co-creator of the New Wave defined this film as a dialogue of nature with culture. According to him, the film is about pleasure, including visual pleasure, which comes from watching it. Without a doubt – the film is filled with beautiful cinematography of the seaside landscape. And yet, (as I dare respond to Jean Douchet) we only have male pleasure to deal with here, as André has planned the trip for one strictly defined reason, the reason being a peculiar kind of “dialogue of nature with culture” otherwise known as fellatio. In that fragment of La Marée the woman is identified with nature, subordinated to the will of man, whose pleasure (in the words of the French critic) she is obliged to accept. She becomes a silent element of nature. There is a very symbolic scene in the movie. The boy asks Julie about her previous experiences, then touches her lips with his finger and says “Untouched!”. The woman is silent, only the man has the power to speak and interpret.

From now on, who, if we say so, can say no to us? We’ve come back from always.

The words uttered by the man on the rock during the tide (throughout its entirety André does not stop lecturing) become grotesque. Just as all his rush, calculation, nervousness become almost pretentious faced with the immovable landscape, the wetness of the sea, the tide regulated by the moon, which he is trying to grasp with his feeble mind. Having reduced himself to a tiny piece of meat he uses to communicate with the world, he becomes nothing more – a small piece of meat, thrown on a big rock drifting through the sea and the sky. The femininity of nature is all-embracing. If we’d stay silent and let it carry us, lead us, then the calls of the seagulls and the rhythmic sound of the returning waves vibrating in space – of the amniotic fluids of the planet, will bring us back the innocence we constantly dream of. O! Let your grand, fortified, speaking identity be melted in Her! And let Her (as we allow) speak-through-your-self.

But look, our seas are what we make of them, full of fish or not, opaque or transparent, red or black, high or smooth, narrow or bankless; and we are ourselves the sea, sand, coral, seaweed, beaches, tides, swimmers, children, waves…

Are Walerian Borowczyk’s films chauvinist? Or, on the contrary, as postulated on the last day of the discussion by the Italian critic Alberto Pezzotta, are they feminist cinema? I found Borowczyk’s own words, quoted by a person who took part in the creation of many of the movies I have described here, important. Michaël Lévy, the assistant director, who from time to time would also act a small part, told us about a situation which took place in the early seventies during a presentation of Immoral Tales in London. There were voices among the young audience who have just seen the film, accusing Borowczyk of misogyny and objectification of women. He responded to the attacks, saying he is only an eye, capturing what has been happening from time immemorial. He also asked them, if it would not perhaps be better if they directed their anger at the institutions which covered up the state of affairs.

Perhaps this is where the secret of the unpopularity of this director stems from. He is only the seeing eye, registering things, and this, which he manages to register, is being left without a commentary, leaving a huge space for interpretation. Does he set in this way the dominating clichés? A difficult question. This free space can make you feel quite uneasy. If this is not the love we want, and not the world we would like to be living in, then do we know for sure what the one we would like to re-discover is like?

Wherever history still unfolds as the history of death, she does not tread. Opposition, hierarchizing exchange, the struggle for mastery which can end only in at least one death (one master – one slave, or two nonmasters ≠ two dead) – all that comes from a period in time governed by phallocentric values. The fact that this period extends into the present doesn’t prevent woman from starting the history of life somewhere else. Elsewhere she gives. She doesn’t ‘know’ what she’s giving, she doesn’t measure it; she gives, though, neither a counterfeit impression nor something she hasn’t got. She gives more, with no assurance that she’ll get back even some unexpected profit from what she puts out. She gives that there may be life, thought, transformation. This is an “economy” that can no longer be put in economic terms. Wherever she loves, all the old concepts of management are left behind. At the end of more or less conscious computation, she finds not her sum but her differences. I am for you what you want me to be at the moment you look at me in a way you’ve never seen me before: at every instant. When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love. In one another we will never be lacking.

English translation: Aleksandra Walentynowicz


(1) See: G. Deleuze, Nietzsche, trans. B. Banasiak, Warsaw 2000, p.25.
(2) See. A. Taborska, Spiskowcy wyobraźni. Surrealizm [Conspirators of imagination. Surrealism], Gdańsk, 2007.
(3) „Julie, ma cousine, avait seize ans, j’en avais vingt, et cette petite différence d’âge la rendait docile à mes commandements”.
(4) Helene Cixous The Laugh of the Medusa, [transl. by:] Keith and Paula Cohen, [in:] Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron [eds]: New French Feminisms, Harvester Press, 1980, pp. 245-265.
It would perhaps be good to remind here who the Medusa was. It was the name of one of the Gorgon sisters, daughters of sea-gods Phorcys and Ceto. Her sisters, Stheno and Euryale, were immortal, Medusa however was subject to the rule of death. Diodorus believed that the Gorgons were a female warrior tribe inhabiting the country next to the Atlants kingdom, conquered by the Amazons. Convinced by the Atlants the Amazons went to war with the Gorgons (see: P. Grimal Słownik mitologii greckiej i rzymskiej/The dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology/, Warsaw 1990, p. 114).
Speaking of the Amazons, we also need to mention a very moving love stories in history. Penthesilea, the queen of the tribe, upon hearing of Hector’s death she hastened to relieve Troy. During the fighting she died killed by Achilles, who fell in love with the queen as she let out her last breath. Another leader taking part in the battle of Troy was the queen Camilla, of the Volsci tribe, a woman-warrior, the virgin worshiper of Diana. She also fell in battle, which is described with great respect by Virgil (Ennead, 7, 803; 11. 539-828).
(5) J. Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, New York: Anchor Books, 1991; p. 162.
(6) In July 1209 the crusaders surrounded the town of Béziers. They demanded that all the Cathari be given away (around 500 people). The city denied and, after an unsuccessful defense it was conquered. All of the inhabitants were slaughtered – according to different sources between 7 and 12 thousand people. The papal legate Arnaud Amaury, one of the crusaders’ leaders asked how to recognize the Cathari among the citizens responded with the infamous words “Kill them all! God will know his own.” Those words paraphrased caricaturely by Walerian Borowczyk were used in The Strange Case of doctor Jekyll and Miss Osbourne.
(7) J. Campbell, op. cit., p.164.
(8) K. Janicka, Surrealizm [Surrealism], Warsaw 1985, p. 216.
(9) M. Hussakowska-Szyszko, Stosunek do nadrealizmu w polskim dwudziestoleciu międzywojennym [Attitude to surrealism in the Polish interwar era], [in:] Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Prace z Historii Sztuki, fasc. 11, Warsaw, Kraków 1973, p. 97.
(10) J. Dąbkowska-Zydroń, Surrealizm po surrealizmie. Międzynarodowy ruch PHASES [Surrealism after surrealism. The international PHASES movement], Warsaw1994, p.101.
(11) Ibidem, p. 108 In the passage quoted by the autor Breton says „[…] culture dies when it conscience abandons it”.
(12) ATTN! Cannes, do not confuse with Domini canes.
(13) Sarah Wilson, - , p.5
(14) Ibidem, p.7
(15) A. Breton, Arcane 17 (Quebec), 1944. After: Wilson, Ibidem, p.1.
(16) M. Hussakowska-Szyszko, op. cit., p. 103.
(18) Ibidem.
(19) Ibidem.
(20) G. Deleuze & F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizofrenia, trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem, H. R. Lane, Londyn 2007, p. 2.
(21) Don't forget that Lacan published his texts also in Surrealist magazine “Minotaure”.
(22) See: (if you do not believe)
(23) L. Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema [in:] Constance Penley, Feminism and Film Theory, London: Routledge 1988, pp.60, 62.
(24) I have written extensively on the surrealist humor of the author of Alice in Wonderland in the context of Bellmer anagrams in Melancholia lalek [Melancholy of the dolls], „Panoptikum” issue 6(13)/2007, p.123-135.
(25) See:
(26) F. Picabia, Manifest błyskawiczności [Instantaneisme], trans. Ł. Demby, [in:] Europejskie manifesty kina. Antologia, wybór, wstęp i opracowanie A. Gwóźdź, Warsaw 2002, p. 85 [translation own].
(27) J. Campbell, The Way of Myth, Boston and London 1994, Shambhala e-book.
(28) M. Pastoureau, Średniowieczna gra symboli [Medieval game of symbols], trans. H. Igalson-Tygielska, Warsaw 2006, p. 320.