Monday, October 20, 2014

The Art of Love (1983)

The 80’s were an interesting and slightly trying time for Walerian Borowczyk. While the controversial direction taken by Borowczyk in the 70’s with films like Immoral Tales (1974) and The Beast (1975) resulted in Borowczyk’s fall from the good graces of critics, the films were nonetheless profitable. By the 80’s however Borowczyk didn’t have the easiest time of getting financial backing for projects, perhaps in part due to changing markets but the types of films Borowczyk had in mind weren’t an easy sell to producers looking for straightforward “erotic” films, a label which Borowczyk loathed. Borowczyk started the 80’s off with Lulu (1980), based on the Lulu plays of Frank Wedekind which featured a cameo by Udo Kier as Jack the Ripper which in some ways foreshadowed Borowczyk’s next film Dr. Jekyll and His Women (1981) which starred Kier. Perhaps due to its ancient Rome setting, Borowczyk probably didn’t have quite such a hard time getting his follow up to Dr. Jekyll and His Women, 1983’s The Art of Love off the ground, and perhaps not coincidentally with Italian funds, what with ancient Roman themed films still being quite popular due to the notoriety of Caligula (1979). The Art of Love however is no mere Caligula cash-in. In pure Borowczyk fashion its a curious film that couldn’t have come from any other filmmaker and one that over the years has been slightly overlooked.

Claudia (Marina Pierro), the wife of high ranking military officer Macarius begins an affair with the considerably younger Cornelius while her husband is away on a military expedition. Cornelius is a student of the poet Ovid who teaches his pupils “the art of love”, or rather seduction and one of his students even manages to seduce Macarius’ mother Clio. Not long after his return Macarius learns of Claudia’s infidelity as well as his mothers indiscretions, the consequences of which will prove be dire for all involved.

Its fitting that The Art of Love (Ars amandi) was an Italian production because the film shares several similarities with Borowczyk’s previous Italian film Behind Convent Walls (1978) with both films featuring a very loose, episodic narrative structure. The film however isn’t as nonsensical as the films structure makes it appear to be and the way Borowczyk eventually brings the film full circle is both clever and unexpected, but not before things descend into complete bedlam in classic Boro fashion. The film is loaded with Borowczyk’s trademark quirks including his unique treatment of the erotic content which culminates in one of the most bizarre and surreal segments in Borowczyk’s oeuvre featuring Pierro and a hollowed out bull which not only recalls Borowczyk’s own The Beast but is also reminiscent of the infamous horse scene in José Ramón Larraz’s The Coming of Sin (1978). Although not as overt as some of Borowczyk’s other films in its jabs at the establishment, Borowczyk’s anti-authoritarian attitude makes some select appearances and of course Borowczyk also makes time for some absurdist humor based around the antics of a troublemaking bird. Visually the film is also similar to Behind Convent Walls with its handheld camera work, soft focus photography and Borowczyk’s masterful use of light which just beams off of various objects throughout the film especially Pierro. More often than not Borowczyk frames Pierro, who is in especially fine form here, as if she were an angel surrounded by a halo of light, the effects of which are astonishing.

To further emphasize the issues Borowczyk had with producers, during the filming for The Art of Love Borowczyk was forced to endure many instances of producer interference, the results of which are featured in the film in the form of spliced in footage from Joe D’Amato’s Caligula: The Untold Story (1982). Around the time of The Art of Love Borowczyk had several ambitious ideas for film projects although none of them ever came to be and it would be another three years before Borowczyk would make another feature which would end up being Emmanuelle V (1987). Although the film does have its fans the film is seen by many as an artistic low point for Borowczyk even though at this point its fairly well known that the majority of the films principle photography was done by the AD. Borowczyk rebounded though in a big way with the staggeringly brilliant and still criminally under seen Love Rites (1988) which would eventually wind up being his last feature film. As for The Art of Love, its unlikely that the film will ever be held in the same high regard as films like Goto, Island of Love (1968) or Immoral Tales. Nevertheless its one of Borowczyk’s most visually astounding films featuring yet another fantastic turn from Pierro and despite the obviously spliced in footage, the film remains for a most part a quintessentially Borowczyk experience.

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