By Alif Majeed.
One of the first interviewees in Love Express is Andrej Wajda, the legendary Polish director who was a batchmate of Walerian Borowczyk at film school. He is narrating a story about his teacher, who acknowledges that the most talented student after the first year is Borowczyk. The expression on Wadja’s face is filled with a mixture of pride and despair. As if saying that while he recognizes his genius, he is sad thinking of his classmate’s wasted potential.
That pretty much sums up the narrative that the documentary Love Express: The Disappearance Of Walerian Borowczyk takes throughout its short run time. What he comes off across as in the end is more of an underachiever than a misunderstood genius that the movie tries to project him as.
It also has a lot to do with his career trajectory. Borowczyk is a guy who followed his real passion and did make some inventive animation shorts and movies, but then somehow took a left turn by being relegated to directing soft porn towards the end of his career. That is the kind of stuff that lends itself some dramatic narrative. But how this transition happens is never adequately explained.
There is some incredible set of talking heads taking us there, though, including filmmakers like Terry Gilliam, Neil Jordan, Bertrand Bonello, and the late Andrzej Wajda. Watching the documentary, you can see the influences Borowczyk might have had on them. Especially with Terry Gilliam movies’ fantasy elements or his work on Monty Python and even the early films of Neil Jordan like The Company of Wolves.
The best part of the documentary was when the various interviewees are shown clips from his movies and their reactions. To see them relive their memories of him while watching the clips shows the genuine affection they had for him. The fun element for them amplifies when many of them also acknowledge how absurd his movies can be.
It comes out pretty well to the fore by the time we get to The Beast, one of Borowczyk’s most controversial and erotic films. More than the eroticism, they focus on the absurdity, as at least some of them come off as apologetic for enjoying his movies at this point as his filmography gets more, you know, odd. Especially when describing the love scene between the female lead and the titular beast who looks like an overgrown rat. (‘No one can squirt as good as Borowczyk,’ an actual quote from one of the interviewees).
There is also a scene where the makers make a close inspection of the beast’s costume. The reverence shown for it comes off as a bit showy. As if to hype up a non-existent legend.
A lot of screen time is also dedicated to his penultimate movie, Emmanuelle 5, and its troubled production. By his admission, he just directed the film within the film in the beginning. The rest being directed by one of his assistants, which is confirmed as much in the documentary. Even if based on fact, this only adds to the apologetic nature of the latter half of Love Express, coming in the light of everything they showed before.
After watching Love Express, you tend to admire the clips from his early animation works, which look like they are truly worth seeking out. But you don’t feel the need to search out for the rest of his body of work. That in itself is one of the movie’s biggest fallacies as we don’t get a real idea of why we need to know more about him in the first place.
Rather than celebrating his work and craft, you just feel sorry for him for getting trapped in unfortunate circumstances. If the makers of Love Express wanted to portray Borowczyk as a genius trapped under the weight of his sordid reputation, it never clearly comes out. He just comes across as a person who was voted most likely to succeed after graduation but ends up blowing his opportunities.
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