Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Walerian Borowczyk's L’Armoire

Shot in the late part of 1978 for inclusion in the erotic Anthology film Private Collections (1979), Borowczyk’s L’Armoire is admittedly one of his minor works but is a pleasing and important addition to his wonderful filmography none the less.
Adapted from a short story by Guy de Maupassant and featuring lovely Marie-Catherine Conti and handsome Yves-Marie Maurin, Borowczyk’s short film centers on a lonely upper class gentleman (Maurin) in the late part of the 19th century who, unable to sleep, wanders out into the Paris night to find a prostitute (Conti) for company. After meeting up with one and escorting her back to her house where they make love, he realizes that all is not what it seems with the young woman who he has been trying to shape into a certain warped ideal he has of what he wants her to be.
There is much to admire in this, one of Borowczyk’s slimmest works. His photography is as usual quite stunning and his noted obsessive detailing of antiquities and the human form is well on display here. The film is surprisingly slight on the sex and nudity factor, especially when compared to the works offered up by Just Jaeckin and Shuji Terayama for the same film, but this is clearly the work of Borowczyk from the beautifully lonely opening shots of Maurin smoking a cigar to the final frenzied images of the backstage calamities of a Parisian burlesque show. Even at his most minor, Walerian Borowczyk was clearly one of the key auteurs of the second half of the twentieth century and L'Armoire is a fine part of that legacy.
L’Armoire has much more in common with Borowczyk’s films like Blanche and The Story Of Sin rather than the angry and bruising Behind Convent Walls that had just proceeded it. There is something down right tender throughout L'Armoire but like many of Borowczyk’s films, their is a certain heartbreaking poignancy underneath even its lightest moments.
Borowczyk’s contribution to Private Collections is less about sex and more about people’s needs to throw their own obsessions and desires on to other people they come across. The film is at its best when our nameless lead seems incapable of understanding exactly who it is he is spending the night with and what her situation is. Instead he quietly demands that she conform to his own opinion of who he wants her to be. When this dream is shattered at the end by a certain discovery in her closet, he seems to realize he has to choose between the isolation and loneliness of his own false life or finally wake up and accept reality in order to save himself.
If L’Armoire stylistically recalls the painterly period work he did on a film like Blanche, thematically it is much more connected to the masterful La Marge, with its look at what begins as a soulless exchange between a prostitute and a john but becomes something much more. L’Armoire also continues Borowczyk's preoccupation with voyeurism, seen here in a wonderful visual motif that he would repeat throughout his entire career of someone peering through a keyhole at something the audience can’t see. For Borowczyk, even more interesting than the watched is the watcher and L’Armoire plays into this idea wonderfully well.

The look of the film, courtesy of Borowczyk and Director of Photography Noel Very is absolutely mesmerizing. The shots and photography of the film are so perfect and fresh that at times it feels like the brilliantly alive colors the two are painting with might start to suddenly drip off the screen. Like all of Borowczyk’s period based works, L’Armoire is an absolute visual masterpiece.
Borowczyk’s short film finally works as a sad but not hopeless little mediation on a life in denial, as many of his best films did. The final moments in the film suggest though that perhaps our nameless lead character has discovered that it is this denial of reality that has been holding him back. L’Armoire, in these last shots, actually becomes one of Borowczyk’s more hopeful pieces, or at the very least one of his most humane.

Private Collections is available on a absolutely beautiful DVD courtesy of Severin. Extras include the original trailer and an entertaining interview with Jaeckin on his section. It is a really fine disc that I highly recommend, and while I really admire all three short films, L’Armoire is the absolute highlight of it for me.


Steve Langton said...

Good luck with your class, though I doubt you'll need it. Looks like you're all set for a successful presentation.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much Steve...I usually dread presentations but am actually looking forward to this one. The main thing i am struggling with is what couple of short clips to show.

Ed Howard said...

Nice writeup. I think the highlight of Private Collections is undoubtedly Terayama's Grass Labyrinth, though -- it's a really hallucinogenic, wild little short, that really blew me away, especially compared to the shorts surrounding it. Borowczyk's isn't bad, just a bit slight, but the Jaeckin short is horrible, like late-night Skinemax fare.