Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Severin Films

French erotic filmmaking took a new direction under the vision of Polish Walerian Borowczyk. A truly polarizing director who is hailed as a genius by some, and a purveyor of filth by others, Borowczyk is best-known for his bestiality romp THE BEAST (a mix of boredom and eye-popping woman-on-animal sex). One thing can be said for Borowczyk’s unique works: they are quite visually stunning, with each frame carefully composed and occupied with the beauty of the female form. IMMORAL WOMEN is no exception, with some striking moments in what ends up being a rather mundane affair that is far from being one of the director’s best films. If you’re a newcomer to Borowczyk, this may be a good place to start, but it’s not the film that will continue your interest in this very special director.

Borowczyk presents three separate stories centered on beautiful women and how sex changes their lives for the better or for the worse, and unfortunately the quality between the three fluctuates wildly. The first sequence, “Margherita”, starts off promisingly, with the lovely title character, a baker’s daughter, becoming the exclusive model for artist Raphael, who is commissioned by the Pope to paint a new fresco in the Vatican. Her beauty so enchants the artist and one of his patrons, Bini, a slimy banker’s son, as well as the clergy itself, that they don’t detect her ulterior motives for remaining a sex object for their pleasure. Clocking in at almost 50 minutes, the draggy pace of “Margherita” may have some viewers checking out before the rather poorly executed plot twist occurs. Only one of the sex scenes is genuinely erotic (an outdoor romp which opens the film, followed by Margherita wandering through beautiful ruins and cleaning herself with water from a well), while the remainder of them take the Joe Sarno route and focus on the faces and legs of the participants (with little success), and the philosophical banter between Margherita and Raphael becomes a little much. Thankfully it is all beautifully photographed, with great attention to period detail, and aficionados of Chaucer should enjoy the pokes at Catholicism and high society. The real saving grace of this segment is the alluring Marina Pierro, star of Borowczyk’s previous controversial classic BEHIND CONVENT WALLS. Fans should also recognize her as the LIVING DEAD GIRL’s friend/lover in Jean Rollin’s gory wonder. Her luscious lips and beautiful figure are captured lovingly by the camera, and she is indeed the only genuinely worthwhile element of this unfortunate misfire. In addition to Pierro’s unclothed form, Borowczyk also features plenty of male nudity, as well as references to artist Michelangelo’s homosexuality. A comic sequence of Bini being caught in a labyrinth built to keep anyone from viewing Raphael’s fresco goes on for far too long.

The second story, “Marceline”, is by far the best and most intriguing of the trio. Marceline, a young French teenager from a well-to-do family, is a free spirit, enjoying frolicking in the beauty of nature with her pet bunny, Pinky. As she explores her budding sexuality on her lush and spacious green lawn, Pinky nuzzles into her nether regions as she reaches orgasm. She professes her undying love for her fuzzy companion, but soon finds that her parents don’t approve of all the time she spends with Pinky. To give away more would be criminal, but there are plenty of surprises and startling violence and sex (as well as more male nudity) before our story ends.

“Marceline” is the reason IMMORAL WOMEN gets one of my highest recommendations. It is a strange and distinctly European mix of beauty, emotion, violence, and sexuality; even by itself, out of the context of an anthology film, it is one of Borowczyk’s greatest accomplishments. It is anchored by an endearing leading lady, Gaelle Legrand. Burdened with an unfortunate frizzy hairdo a la Little Orphan Annie, she’s no Marina Pierro, but who is? With a lovely figure, piercing blue eyes, and pouting beauty, she resembles a 1970s variant of Helena Bonham Carter, and gives a wonderful performance. The beautifully composed and photographed “love scene” between Marceline and Pinky is the most erotic sequence in the film, which may surprise some viewers. However, unlike THE BEAST where the heroine enjoys wild sex with an ape-like monster, Marceline’s relationship with Pinky seems to stem from the fact that, like any good pet, he has unconditional love for her, unlike her parents and stuffy maid. It is more of a symbolic relationship than a taboo-breaking sexual one, making the plot’s twisted revelation that much more effective. Marceline is plagued by a pair of truly monstrous parents; her mother plays piano incessantly and shouts commands at the family maid through the house, while her father is a typically rude high-class snob. When they decide to teach their daughter a lesson through cruelty and cold-blooded laughter, it’s hard not to root for Marceline as she seeks her vengeance. The final blood-soaked moments of the story, as well as a tantalizing coda, are impossible to forget. If you need a reason to purchase IMMORAL WOMEN, do it for “Marceline”, an engrossing and brilliantly executed combination of art and depravity.

Following such a wonderful little film like “Marceline”, it is doubly disappointing to have to sit through “Marie”, a half-hearted crime story that feels randomly tacked on at the last minute. Marie is the wife of a wealthy businessman who is abducted and held for ransom by a handsome criminal. Her beloved dog runs off to find her on his own, but can’t save her before she is raped by her captor. A twist ending involves the dog rescuing her (but no “ultimate ecstasy with her four-legged savior”, as the DVD box ludicrously claims). Do yourself a favor: eject the disc after “Marceline” and don’t bother with this uninspired and boring finale. As Marie, Pascale Christophe (billed on the box as “former Disney child star”, though she only did a French-Canadian TV movie in her 20s for the company a few years previous to this film) is not a compelling actress, and though she contributes the requisite nudity in a tasteless rape scene (which also includes more male nudity), she makes no impression on the audience. Especially stupid is how her captor allows her to venture forth into a crowded public place to meet her husband at a rendezvous to collect the cash…and she hastily runs back to the criminal’s van after discovering her hubby didn’t bring the loot! The continuing subplot of her pet canine Caesar wandering the streets, sniffing her out, ends with a vicious groin-mauling and another plot twist. The big question is: why was this story even included here? After seeing two sequences about women driven to commit wanton and immoral acts, a lame hostage situation tale, complete with a psychic dog, ends this uneven film with a whimper rather than a bang.

Transferred at 1.66:1 and anamorphic from original European vault materials, IMMORAL WOMEN looks mighty fine. Because the film was shot on cheap film stock, most of the film looks fuzzy and as if shot through gauze, but other than a few nasty moments of debris and slight print jumps (during the segue from “Margherita” to “Marceline”), the transfer remains colorful and bright. “Marie” looks the most crisp and clear. The French language track sounds great, but the English subtitles suffer from a few glaring typos. An English dub track is included, but be sure to stick with the film’s original language track.

Extras are limited to the film’s original trailer (apparently aimed at the arthouse crowd) and a very well-written bio on Walerian Borowczyk by one of my favorite scribes, Richard Harland Smith. (Casey Scott)