DVD: Immoral Women / Les Héroïnes du mal (1979)

November 13, 2010 | By

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Film: Good / DVD Transfer: Very Good/ DVD Extras: Standard

Label/Studio: Severin / Catalogue: n.a / Region: 0 (NTSC) / Released: January 30, 2007

Synopsis: Three-part anthology of wronged women who exact or benefit from some fitting revenge.

Special Features: Walerian Borowczyk Text Bio / Theatrical Trailer

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Review:

Returning to the anthology format of Immoral Tales (1974), Walerian Borowczyk used three separate stories to explore tales of provocative women who exact revenge on men for sexist idolatry, animal cruelty, and for being victimized by unknown and trusted men.

Foggy lenses, gilded Renaissance music, and silly behaviour in puffy costumes are familiar elements in the first part of Borowczyk’s film, with Marina Pierro (now 19 and more naked and naughty) playing an assistant and model to a promising painter, and one who must also spend her time shunning the advances of a wealthy, lecherous pig named Bini (played by a bald Jean-Claude Dreyfus, later to appear as the sly butcher in Delicatessen).

NOTE: CONTAINS MODEST SPOILERS

This is perhaps the strongest story of the trio, mostly because Borowczyk treats specific sequences as live-action cartoons with broad gestures and stark visual gimmicks. The most impressive is the elaborate human ‘mouse trap’ that Bini attempts to enter in order to ascend towards the scaffolding the painters use to upgrade the church ceiling into something more contemporary. Both the painter and his lover work hand gears and mirrors, luring Bini deeper into the trap until he falls, slides, and is spun around and ejected from the complicated wooden structure.

It’s an indulgent visual gag, but isn’t far removed from other absurd moments that pepper the first segment. Male nudity figures prominently among the painter’s assistants – all strapped in leather, except one naked model who balances his frame on a box so Borowczyk can photograph his assets from various angles – and there’s a funny running gag involving one rebellious assistant who violently throws balls of linen soaked in black paint against a beige sheet, proclaiming one day his art will be recognized as the truest form of painterly expression.

The DVD’s director notes are surprisingly detailed, and offer some good background info on Borowczyk’s career, and also make note of the Roman ruins used for the first story – secretly photographed with the naked actors after tourists had left.

The middle story feels the longest, and is the most tonally jarring because it really dips into much darker terrain. In her film debut, Gaëlle Legrand plays Marceline, a spectacularly afro’d teenager perpetually late for lunch because she likes to play Beaver n’ Bunnies on the gazon with her white rabbit Pinky. Her parents are snotty twits who ridicule her at every turn; fed up with her tardiness and her intimate relationship with Pinky (yes, as the DVD cover art evidences, the white hare really gets that close to Marceline’s delta hair), they exact a cruel lesson, which sends the poor girl on a quest for revenge.

The story could and arguably should have ended with a simpler finale, but Borowczyk starts the segment with a sleazy delivery boy who dreams of becoming a butcher like his peers and tormentors, and then brings the character back for a bizarre scene in a slaughterhouse involving the rape of Marceline (herself bizarrely wandering into the abattoir in her translucent nightgown), some unimpressed sheep, and a drastic action that sets up the story’s vengeful finale. There are graphic scenes of headless lamb cadavers being gutted and processed, and the use of blood between Marceline and the wannabe butcher boy is certainly one of several aspects that earned its director more infamy alongside the mutant, volcanic phallus in La bete / The Beast (1975).

The third and final tale in Immoral Women is designed as broad absurdism: a woman named Marie (Pascale Christophe) is abducted by a masked & gun-toting madman hiding in a mobile shell of streetside boxes, and later taken to a riverside warehouse to wait for the ransom delivery from her wealthy husband.

The victim has plenty of opportunities to run away, and the gunman is such a moron, it’s unfathomable he’s able to instill terror into the woman whom he repeatedly releases from the van to cross streets, pass through busy crowds, and make phone calls to tell her husband when and where to leave the money. Never mind the kidnapper lets her exit the van before he slowly picks up the sniper rifle; all she has to do is walk away in another direction, where there’s no peephole from where her tormentor can shoot her for disobeying.

The fake boxes that cover the kidnapper/victim and are seen shuffling along a Parisian street resemble something from Candid Camera, so we know Borowczyk thinks his characters are more or less morons. An elongated montage has Marie’s giant dog sniffing her last positions (so to speak) and running throughout Paris until it arrives to save the day, ending the Frank Tashlin gag with a risqué payoff between the woman and the pooch.

The issue here, yet again, is tonal shift: Borowczyk intercuts the pooch finding his way to Marie, while the kidnapper assaults her because, well, there’s nothing else to do until the ransom drop-off the next morning; the ending has the dog acting out Marie’s disgust for her husband by emasculating his power; and the naked victim, now free from the fetters of her male tormentors, rewards the pooch with lots of hugs and frolicking before the end credit crawl.

Borowczyk’s absurdism doesn’t really go beyond a few sequences, and the overall stupidity of the characters reduces the final segment to a tacked-on tale because it functionally fills out the rest of the movie to a feature-length running time. The Tashlinesque montage provides visual movement when the narrative becomes static, and given the rampant nudity in prior segments, Marie’s nudity feels like money footage held back until the end, because there’s no story left to keep us interested.

The first tale shows Borowczyk in excellent form, balancing comedy, eroticism of both sexes, and inventive mis-en-scene; what the others behold are perhaps those key elements that have coloured the director as an enfant terrible of erotic cinema. Borowczyk was a master in combining aspects of higher culture – clothes, customs, architecture, painting, literature – with shocking images of aberrant behaviour or vulgar imagery, but when they dominate stories and characters, the results are either appallingly brutal, or just plain dumb.

Severin’s DVD offers a first-rate transfer of Immoral Women from a clean source, with a decent mono mix. Some players may not load the English subtitles immediately, requiring an advance selection before starting the film.

Borowczyk’s filmic adaptations of works by André Pieyre de Mandiargues include Immoral Tales(story “La Maree”), La Marge The Streetwalker (novel), Les Héroïnes du mal Immoral Women, and Cérémonie d’amour / Love Rites (novel “Tous disparaitra”). Jack Cardiff also directed a film version of de Mandiargues’ existentialist novel “La Motocyclette” as Girl on a Motorcyle.

Marina Pierro’s other naughty appearances for Borowczyk include Behind Convent Walls (1978),Dr. Jekyll and His Women (1981), Ars Amandi (1983), Love Rites (1988), and the director’s episode “Un traitement justifié” in the French erotic TV series Série rose (1990).

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© 2007 Mark R. Hasan

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Related links:

DVD / Film:  Beast, The / La bête (1975) — Behind Convent Walls / Intérieur d’un couvent / Interno di un convento (1978) — Goto, Island of Love / Goto, l’île d’amour (1968) — Love Rites / Queen of the Night / Cérémonie d’amour (1987)

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External References:

IMDBSoundtrack Album

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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