|'Whilst it could never be considered a bad film, this is certainly a flawed and abstruse piece of cinema'.|
Made available earlier this month as both a standalone release in Arrow Films' Walerian Borowczyk Collection and part of their five-disc Borowczyk box set Camera Obscura, one need only look at Goto, Isle Of Love's relatively minuscule amount of user ratings on IMDb (just 313 at the time of writing) to realise how obscure an interest the director's first live-action feature film is. That Goto, Isle Of Love has a higher amount of IMDb ratings than two other films in this collection shows how specialist the appeal of Borowczyk's body of work must be considered to be.
Borowczyk enthusiasts often hail the director as a cinematic genius, seeing his films as works of fine art deserving of both reverence and protection. Indeed, the restoration of Goto, Isle Of Love from several surviving elements (the original negative having been destroyed during the 1970s in a fire) forms something of a centrepiece around which the other four films in the collection gravitate. Arrow Films raised significantly more through Kickstarter than the £20,000 necessary for the high definition restoration, demonstrating the love many have for this particular film.
Coming to Goto, Isle Of Love as a complete Borowczyk novice, to be frank it's hard to see what the all fuss is about. Whilst it could never be considered a bad film, this is certainly a flawed and abstruse piece of cinema. As far as the artistic craft evident, it's clear that the director has put a great deal of effort into making his film look exactly how he wants, which is regularly really quite good. With both photographic and theatrical qualities simultaneously present, Borowczyk effectively creates a subtly surreal tone somewhat reminiscent of later filmmakers such as David Lynch and Terry Gilliam.
There are aesthetic decisions here which feel less successful however. Shooting the majority of Goto, Isle Of Love in black-and-white, Borowczyk chooses at sporadic points throughout his film to include fleeting colour shots. It will more than likely catch you entirely by surprise the first time it happens - undoubtedly the director's intention. But other than a cinematic quirk to briefly confound you, these moments add very little else; only one early shot truly benefits from being presented in full colour as opposed to the monochrome of the rest of the film.
It's as a narrative piece that Goto, Isle Of Love falls shortest of the mark. The film is interminably slow; despite a running time of just over ninety minutes, this regularly drags. When focused upon the central story of Grozo (Guy Saint-Jean), a pardoned thief ruthlessly working his way up the strange island's hierarchical society, this is on the whole reasonably satisfying. It's when Borowczyk switches his focus to more trivial matters - as he does quite regularly - that his film becomes much less enjoyable. A conversation between Grozo and another character about the mechanics of a fly-catching device is positively soporific.
In dreaming up the isolated island nation of Goto and the absurd dictatorship by which its inhabitants are governed, Borowczyk gifts himself an instantly intriguing set-up. But, despite being banned in both Communist Poland and Fascist Spain when released in 1969 due to its apparent critique of a totalitarian state, in truth Goto, Isle Of Love now feels like something of a toothless beast. Borowczyk's satirical elements are far gentler than it surely could be; meanwhile the bizarre elements of his setting are never explored to a satisfying extent, ending up seeming too much like empty window dressing around the director's dawdling tale.
Taken purely on his film's visual aesthetic, Borowczyk undoubtedly has the potential to seriously impress as a director. With four films left to explore in Arrow Films' quintet of features, cautious optimism currently prevails despite the fact that Goto, Isle Of Love too often failed to strike a satisfying chord.
Goto, Isle Of Love is available on UK Blu-ray and DVD now.