Walerian Borowczyk, most infamous for The Beast movie of 1975, is to be featured in his first major UK retrospective. The director’s feature films and shorts form part of a season titled Cinema of Desire: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk.

The event in May 2014 sees BFI Southbank join forces once again with the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. Additional events include an illustrated talk from writer Kuba Mikurda and illustrator Kuba Woynarowski in the BFI Reuben Library and a Poster Design Masterclass with Tomasz Opasinski for budding graphic designers and illustrators. The ICA will host the first exhibition of Borowczyk’s artwork, along with some film shorts, then Arrow Films will release the restored prints of most of his films in a DVD box set: Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection.

Walerian Borowcyk (1923 – 2006) trained as a painter and sculptor at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, before establishing himself first as a poster artist in the 1950s and later as an animator and filmmaker. He relocated to France in 1959, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life, and produced a succession of often comic short films, leading to his first feature films: The Theatre of Mr & Mrs Kabal (1967) Goto, Island of Love (1968). The latter starred his wife and muse, Ligia Branice as the wife of a bloodthirsty dictator. This film was banned in both Communist Poland and Spain, but, elsewhere, it inspired a generation of artists including Terry Gilliam, The Quay Brothers and Angela Carter.

Courting controversy even further, he followed with the medieval drama about a young, beautiful woman married to a senile baron played by Michel Simon, in Blanche (1971), and then the sexually explicit satire Immoral Tales (1974) which caused a box office sensation in France, but spent most of the 70s embroiled in censorship battles around the world. Borowczyk depicted fantasy, eroticism and sexually voyeuristic stories that became more pronounced with the relaxation of censorship and challenged taboos. The intriguingly titled A Story of Sin (1975) cast a critical eye on the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, thus adding to the filmmaker’s infamy and reputation as an agent provocateur.

While some of his critics saw Borowczyk as a maker of ‘sex films’, he denied this, and his supporters viewed him as one of the finest filmmakers to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain. Yet his depictions of sex on screen certainly defy conventions. In The Margin (1976), an uptight salesman (Joe Dellasandro) succumbs to the demands of an alluring prostitute (Sylvia Kristel) against a seedy Parisienne backdrop. But when consigned to the underground circles of cinema in the early 80s, he created a masterpiece of surrealist cinema with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981).

The legacy and unique perspective of Walerian Borowczyk will be discussed in a special forum on the 18th May, when his colleagues will meet with academics and season curator Daniel Bird. Through this programme and the Kinoteka celebrations we will exemplify why he was a filmmaker ahead of his time and why now is high time to re-evaluate this remarkable artist’s major contribution to cinema.

Presented as part of the 12th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, and in conjunction with the ICA exhibition Walerian Borowczyk: The Listening Eye 20th May – 29th June

BFI Southbank Box Office tel: 020 7928 3232.

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