The Story of Sin, Story of a Sin
Running Time: 124 minutes
UK Certificate: 15
Born in Poland in 1923, Walerian Borowczyk studied as a visual artist before moving to Paris at the beginning of the sixties where he made a number of innovative short films, some animated, some a mixture of animation with live action. By the 1970s he had established himself as one of Europe’s leading arthouse directors, with films like ‘Goto, Island of Love’ (1968) and ‘Immoral Tales’ (1973) earning him the reputation as a master of artful eroticism. So in 1975, when he shot his classic moral tale ‘The Story of Sin’, Borowczyk’s career was at its peak. Unfortunately for him (although fortunately for filmgoers), in the same year he also released the deliciously shocking class satire ‘La Bête’, certainly a far more interesting film, but one whose explicit perversity would doom the director to a future of sexploitation and soft core (‘culminating’ in the indignity of 1987’s ‘Emmanuelle V’).
By an uncanny coincidence, the director’s own descent from pure auteur to tainted pornographer is parallelled and foreshadowed by the decline-and-fall narrative of ‘The Story of Sin’ – based on Stefan Zeromski’s 1908 novel, and the only film Borowczyk ever made in his native Poland. Devout virgin Ewa (newcomer Grazyna Dlugolecka) falls deeply in love with Lukasz Niepolomski (Jerzy Zelnik), a young anthropologist who has taken up lodgings with Ewa’s bourgeois parents in Warsaw while he tries to secure a divorce from his estranged wife. Against her mother’s advice, Ewa moves in with the married man and nurses him as he recovers from a wound received in a duel with his wealthy patron Count Szczerbic (Olgierd Lukaszewicz). Shortly after Lukasz has recovered, he is imprisoned in Rome, and Ewa’s infatuated pursuit of him takes her from Rome to Nice, from Berlin to Vienna (variously aided or impeded by a lovesick Szczerbic, a pair of thieving villains, a former lodger of Ewa’s pare nts, and a saint-like social utopist), as she is reduced from pious virginity to infanticide, murder and prostitution, before finally attaining a tragic redemption.
Despite its sensationalist subject matter, the relative restraint of ‘The Story of Sin’ may surprise – and even disappoint – fans of Borowczyk’s other films. It is a conventional story of a woman’s life destroyed by love, not unlike ‘Madame Bovary’ or The Life of O-Haru, and it is told in an undistinguished, if classical, style. There are without doubt some beautiful images, including a Warsaw park shot like an impressionist painting, and Ewa’s naked body covered in red rose petals (with an obvious influence on ‘American Beauty’), as well as Borowczyk’s trademark fixation on objects (shoes, canes, phonographs etc.) – and while Dlugolecka herself offers filmgoers little with which to empathise in her Ewa, there are some memorable performances from her co-stars (especially Roman Wilhelmi and Marek Walczewski as the larcenous debauchers Pochron and Plaza-Splawski). None of this, however, is enough to excuse the film’s attention-sapping pace. In retrospect you will realise that ‘The Story of Sin’ was full of melodramatic incidents and wild coincidences, but as all of them are so understated, and most are crammed into the last half hour, it is difficult to be engaged by this plodding, overlong film.
It's Got: Beautiful shot composition and images; a cameo from Borowczyk (in false beard) and cinematographer Zygmunt Somosiuk (in drag).
It Needs: An ejaculating beast or masturbating nun to make this film as lively as Borowczyks others.
DVD Extras Scene selection; optional English subtitles; a (largely silent) audio commentary by Borowczyk expert Daniel Bird which amounts to about 6 minutes of comment, largely general background on Borowczyk, but also including an anecdote about his troubled relationship with lead Grazyna Dlugolecka (which deteriorated to such a degree that she was not invited back to do her own post-synch dubbing); All About Eve, 8 min interview with Dlugolecka about how her "career was simply closed" after working with the "great master"; In the Beginning was Lust, 7 min archival interview with Borowzcyk in which, when accused by the interviewer of being "a big pervert", the director asserts "I think a Disney film is more pornographic"; plus three sets of excellent production notes (Dzieje Grzechu 2000, on a recent, unhinged book by Borowczyk about his experiences on The Story of Sin; Stefan Zeromski, bio of the author of Dzieje Grzechu; Father Walerian of the Devils: the Str ange Case of a Wayward Auteur, bio of Borowczyk). DVD Extras Rating: 6/10
Alternatives:Behind Convent Walls, Immoral Tales, La Bête, The Life of O-Haru
A film on sin from the director of 'La Bête' ought to be an eye-opener, but for all its beauty, this affair is more turgid than torrid.