The Walerian Borowczyk Collection - Short Films And Animation - Blu-ray Review

'The collection varies in quality but undoubtedly provides some genuine highlights from the director's body of work'.

Spanning a quarter of a century of Walerian Borowczyk's work, Arrow Films' collection of a dozen of the director's short films plus The Theatre Of Mr. And Mrs. Kabal, his animated feature length debut, provides the best overview of Borowczyk's work of all the discs in their recent Borowczyk Collection. A compendium of animation and live action, the tragic and the comedic, the simplistic and the surreal, this collection varies in quality but undoubtedly provides some genuine highlights from the director's body of work.

The disc's contents are clearly divided into two sections, so it makes sense to consider each section in turn. The Theatre Of Mr. And Mrs. Kabal presents the surreal animated story of the titular couple. Mrs. Kabal (voiced by Louisette Rousseau) is an impossibly busted, mechanical woman who speaks in a series of computerised bleeps; her husband (voiced by Pierre Collet), apparently human but just as odd-looking, spends his days looking after his wife whilst also regularly peering around at his surroundings through binoculars. Unsurprisingly, husband and wife aren't a couple easy to relate to immediately; however, their bickering, destructive nature and obvious care for one another means that, despite their extremely surreal appearance and actions, they undoubtedly present a somewhat recognisable married couple.

The world the Kabals inhabit is equally as surreal, inhabited by seemingly near-indestructible butterflies and reptile-like creatures reminiscent of either dogs or rats depending on their size. Borowczyk's artistic style is minimalist, consisting mostly of black-and-white line drawings with only occasional colour; but it works in presenting his surreal tale alongside the director's choice to include very little dialogue and only occasional background music, essentially telling his story through the character's actions and near-constant sound effects. We also see Borowczyk experimenting with film, such as his insertion here and there of short live action clips within the animation - most of which involve young women in various states of undress, something the director would become more engrossed with further on in his career.

Borowczyk never concerns himself too much with narrative development, essentially allowing the Kabals to drift from one bizarre scenario to another for the entire running time. It's questionable as to whether the characters and aesthetic lend themselves well enough to a feature length film - several sequences throughout feel quite drawn out, and the lack of focus can become tiresome particularly during the second half. But whilst The Theatre Of Mr. And Mrs. Kabal perhaps ends up a bit too strange and indecipherable for its own good, for the most part it proves an intriguing and enjoyably weird watch.

The collection of twelve of Borowczyk's short films that make up the second part of the disc essentially provide a snapshot of the director's interests and developing style throughout his career. The earlier shorts focus on creativity through animation and camera trickery, such as in 1963's Renaissance which depicts a destroyed room transforming itself to its original form; or Angels' Games, also from 1963, which presents surreal imagery reminiscent of World War II concentration camps alongside religious iconography in a way that is both disturbing and compelling. By far the most successful, however, is 1966's Rosalie, focused upon a servant girl recounting a truly harrowing tale. It's not just the most impressive short, but also by a considerable margin the best cinema from Borowczyk seen across all five discs in Arrow's collection. The director delivers brilliant use of lighting and stop-motion effects, as well as a superbly powerful turn from actress Ligia Branice.

That said, this is undoubtedly a mixed bag. Other shorts, such as Joachim's Dictionary (1965) and The Phonograph (1969) are simply dull, offering little to engage with in terms of story or cinematic craft. The weakest of all the films on offer here, however, is 1984's Scherzo Infernal, a smutty religious tale in the vein of Borowczyk's Immoral Tales and The Beast. The story is weak, the animation rudimentary, and the whole thing comes across simply as an excuse for the director to draw pictures of a buxom semi-naked angel and some well-endowed devils. In the end, however, there are more short films worth your time here than not - including a couple of genuinely excellent ones - making this arguably the most successful disc of Arrow Films' Borowczyk Collection overall.

The Theatre Of Mr. And Mrs. Kabal

Short Films, 1959-1984

Walerian Borowcyzk: Short Films And Animation is available on UK dual format Blu-ray and DVD now.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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