Oldenburg Walerian Borowczyk is a filmmaker fondly remembered by a select few. The Polish auteur of animated and experimental films of the first half of the 20th century was a guiding light for many, amongst them Terry Gilliam, Andrzej Wajda and Neil Jordan, but is practically unknown today by even the more diligent cineastes.
This is why Kuba Mikurda’s „Love Express – The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk“, which chronicles his life and work (focusing mostly on the latter), faces an uphill battle from the start. But it is one that it clearly wins, compellingly drawing us into the mind, life and tragic public demise of a unique filmmaker finally defeated by his own success.
The reason for this is „Goto, Island of Love“, a film that catapulted him to the frontlines of national attention, capitalizing on social upheaval at the times as much as the new hunger for freely expressed sexuality. It changed Borowczyk’s life overnight, turning him into a much sought-after maker of erotic films that still clearly carried his iconoclastic signature, but became more and more focused on the physical assets of his leading ladies, including iconic pin-up Sylvia Kristel, whom he directed in “La Marge”, later retitled as the more commercially viable “Emanuelle ‘77”.
His career boomed and most likely his accountants were kept happy, but Borowczyk’s works became more of a parody of his former artistic greatness and unique vision, reaching an inglorious climax with him aborting 1987’s „Emanuelle V“ after only a few days of shooting. From that on he led a life that made Terrence Malick’s infamous recluse-phase from 1978 to 1998 look like a cocktail party. Rarely to be seen or mentioned in cinematic circles, he vanished into other artistic endeavors, finally fading into public oblivion.
Mikurda’s great achievement is to tell this story as vividly as a fictional portrait. Better yet, he manages to make viewers unfamiliar with Borowczyk’s work doubt that he even existed – so enthralling is the portrayal of a gifted artist and unorthodox thinker who, to be blunt, sold his soul to softcore porn.
The inherent tragedy makes “Love Express” a tragedy in documentary form that one is unlikely to forget.