Some have hailed him as a genius of joyous erotica, while others have condemned him as a monster of pornographic depravity. But in this controversial three-part feature by writer/director Walerian Borowczyk, women are mysterious and degenerate creatures who hunger for both extremes. In the first tale, Marina Pierro (of Behind Convent Walls) stars as the muse whose rampant lusts enflamed the artists and clergy of ancient Rome. Then Gaëlle Legrand is a blossoming teen in 18th century France whose unnatural desire for her pet bunny leads to an act of depraved passion. Finally, a luscious young wife (former Disney child star Pascale Christophe) is abducted and raped before finding the ultimate ecstasy with her four-legged savior.
eyelights: the sensuality of the first story. Marina Pierroa.
eyesores: the imposition of sex on women. the ill-suited humour.
‘Les héroïnes du mal’ is (presumably, as I can’t seem to confirm this) the second part of the Walerian Borowczyk’s so-called “Immoral Trilogy”. I had somewhat enjoyed the first part Contes immoraux‘; if anything, what was appealing was the overall vibe of it, even if its potential was not entirely fulfilled. So the thought of seeing the rest of the series stayed in the back of my mind, with the thought of seeing them some day.
The other day, I found a Borowczyk boxed set that included the last two pictures of the series as well as a collection of films he participated in. I couldn’t have asked for a better deal: not only was I not stuck with a double of the first one, but I would get an extra film to boot – and all for a comparatively decent price. Since I was slowly getting ready to watch a set of sex-related films, I jumped at the chance to pick it up.
As with the previous installment, ‘Les héroïnes du mal’ is a collection of stories:
1. Margherita is an artist’s model who seduces reputed painters and steals their riches for her and her lover’s benefit. There’s complexity to this story, what with the involvement of the Vatican and the competitive nature of the various artists, including Raffaello and Michelangelo. What’s particular is the unbelievable amount of full nudity, both male and female, that this story serves up; fans of blue movies will be satisfied by virtue of this one alone. In fact, some of the sex was actually quite sexy, both in the way that it was shot, but also because of the beauty of the bodies involved – again both male and female. The female lead, Marina Pierroa, in particular, is utterly delicious.
2. Marceline is a teenager who loves to frolic around naked in the grass with her pet bunny – much to the dismay of her parents and housekeeper, who loathe the white rodent. They decide to play a cruel trick on her, taking away the bunny permanently. After she gets into a sexually violent altercation with one of the help, she decides to exact her revenge on her family. The lead was cute but her Richard Simmons ‘do didn’t suit her at all and was a turn off. Also, that one sex scene was marred by its outcome. On the flip side, the frolicking was particularly memorable.
3. Marie is a rich woman who gets kidnapped on her way to a bookstore with her husband. I suspect that it was meant to be amusing, due to the absurd way that the kidnapping took place and in the cruel, but slapsticky way that the kidnapper is eventually despatched (along with the husband), but the piece’s menacing tone was a put off. Furthermore, the only sex here was done under duress, overcasting any possible sexiness – of which there was, ultimately, very little anyway.
It’s been too long a time for me to remember just how sensual ‘Contes Immoraux’ was, but this one is a mixed bag: as indicated, its representation of sexuality isn’t necessarily erotic – it can be savage, a disturbingly real-world situation for all too many women. Thankfully, it’s not meant to be titillating, or played for laughs, nor is it portrayed in such an extreme fashion that the film itself is tainted, irredeemable.
…but its intention is unclear, and I would honestly love to know what Borowczyk’s idea of sex and sensuality is.
On the one hand, he is able to make extremely gorgeous and luscious films, and on the other he can be cold, edgy. I can’t seem to find any information on the subject, but was he simply trying to show sexuality in myriad forms? Or was he trying to arouse his audience’s sexuality as well as their morality? It’s clear that he found the violent acts morally reprehensible, by virtue of their outcomes, but what was he trying to do with this film?
Frankly, while I find his choice of subjects interesting, his direction sometimes left something to be desired; ‘Les héroïnes du mal’ was constructed in uneven ways, tonally and in its editing. Having said that, the production itself isn’t great, sometimes seeming cheap, so it wouldn’t be surprising that Borowczyk didn’t have full control of the picture, or was limited in some other way. Perhaps he simply had to make do with limited means.
He might also have been struggling with the producers or the distributors’ visions for the picture. One key problem that surfaces, for instance, is a failed attempt at humour that feels mildly contrived, and which is certainly ill-suited to the piece. It’s not well-conceived, which suggests that there was something up with the writing along the way, that there were conflicting forces at play. Were they the director’s own conflicted designs, or were there too many cooks?
Either way, despite its flaws, ‘Les héroïnes du mal’ is sufficiently entertaining to be worth a gander. As erotica, it fails because it spoils the mood that it had manages to build up with the first part of the triptych. Still, on the whole, as a motion picture, it’s pretty decent. And, as far as short films or anthologies go, Borowczyk has put together something of some appeal; it’s sometimes tantalizing, sometimes controversial, and not necessarily immoral.
Date of viewing: June 16, 2013