Tuesday, 13 November 2007


Another film that you may not wish to screen for an elderly relative


Walerian Borowczyk

Grazya Dlugolecko, Jerzy Zelnik, Olgierd Lukaszewicz, Roman Wilhelmi, Marek Walczewski, Karolina Lubienska, Zdzislaw Mrozewski, Mieczyslaw Voit

Sefon Zeromski’s literary classic provided the inspiration behind Walerian Borowczyk’s first (and last) feature to be shot in his native country of Poland.Working under the strict regime of the Catholic church, Borowczyk was forced to tone down the more sexually explicit elements of his source, and yet constructed an erotic melodrama that may yet turn out to be the film he’ll be remembered for. In her feature debut, Grazya Dlugolecko plays Ewa - a young woman who falls in love with a lodger at her parents home. When Lukas Niepolomski (Zelnik) turns out to be a married man, Ewa embarks on a tragic journey; her path littered by a succession of men who bring lust, deception, jealousy and death.Those who associate Borowczyk with little more than boobs ‘n’ bums would do well to investigate this stately account of a life less ordinary which strides purposefully forward to the music of Mendelssohn. Here, Borowczyk shows a remarkable eye for detail in his socio-political condemnation of 70s Poland, while largly leaving his cast to grow with the story. The men in Ewa’s life - a wholly unsympathetic bunch - are well portrayed by a capable troupe of performers (Zelnik, in particular, is excellent as Ewa’s guardian devil) but it’s Dlugolecko who should receive the lion's share of the praise.Her remarkable performance wrings every last drop of emotion from the words and images of this film, compelling one to wonder why she failed to reach the heights of her profession (more on that later). With an approach to her art and a style that reminds me of Fassbinder’s Hanna Schygulla, Grazya commands sympathy for her deeds and her suffering, taking us through several emotionally intense scenes, including a shattering event that you really will not want to witness: watch out for the roses scene, too, which surely inspired that much-talked about scene from American Beauty. Apart from a rather messy final scene (partially rescued by a beautiful closing shot), The Story Of Sin remains a timeless, harrowing study of the exploitation of sin and the innocent. Indeed, it inhabits the same block as Terence Davis’ The House Of Mirth and Harry Kumel’s extraordianary Eline Vere, while not being quite so moving. Full marks, then, to Nouveaux Pictures for their release of a Region 2 DVD which honours this important work.In lieu of a full restoration, picture quality is as good as one could hope for, with a generally stable, colourful transfer. Extras are also well catered for, and include a commentary track and interviews with two key figures from the film.The still-gorgeous Dlugolecko takes part in a 6 minute interview, during which she explains how she got the role sans audition; why The Story Of Sin remains her biggest film, and her profound regret that she failed to push her career in foreign markets “until it was too late”. Borowczyk also gets 6 minutes of face time; giving us some background on his film; commenting that Disney features are more erotic than his own productions, and countering accusations of being “a big pervert” from a rather forward interviewer.While it’s a matter of regret that both interviews are so short in length, it’s a genuine pleasure to see and hear the participants.The audio commentary track, from Daniel Bird, is restricted to comments on selected scenes with valuable information on Borowzyk’s career and a breakdown of Polish life during and prior to the making of this film. Unfortunately, there is a huge amount of ‘dead air’ which Bird could have effortlessly filled. Daniel is a wonderfully gifted writer, an expert on Borowczyk’s career, and also possesses an articulate vocal delivery that is tailor-made for this line of work. So, it’s a crying shame that he did not elect/wasn’t commissioned to undertake a two hour track that would have further enriched our appreciation of this film.


  1. I just left a long comment and then accidently deleted...love when that happens.
    I will try and recap my thoughts...

    Really excellent work here.
    I love this film and the dvd is among my favorites. I am just thrilled that it exists. I think this is one of Borowczyk's greatest and most moving works. He is one of my favorite directors and I think this film works as a good introduction to his canon, as some of his harsher films might turn off newbies...
    I do agree about the commentary and it is unfortunate that it isn't longer. The fact that the disc even exists is worth celebrating though...
    Great review of a really special film...

  2. Thanks Jeremy. I was delighted when this film was released. i
    I voted for Borowczyk in your poll over at Moon In The Gutter. We need some more reverential treatment on disc for his man.