Walerian Borowczyk is probably best known for Immoral Tales or The Beast, two notorious and gratuitous films that earned the director a reputation for deftly blending art and smut in a creative and interesting way, making his style unique in the pantheon of seventies 'Eurotica.' His 1979 anthology film, Immoral Women (or The Heroines Of Evil) might not be as renowned as some of his other films but it holds up just as well and in retrospect is just as enjoyable for its mental stimulation as well as its more titillating aspects.
What links the three stories that make up the film isn't the promiscuity (or, immorality) of the women in question so much as it is the way in which they deal with the problems that beguile them – often stemming from the men in their lives. It's interesting how Borowczyk, who co-wrote the film, deals with these conflicts and brings us along as they are ultimately resolved in rather unorthodox ways.
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD:
In the first story, Margherita, a beautiful but impoverished peasant girl of the same name (Marina Pierro) seduces a wealthy painter who sees her as his muse, finding in her the most beautiful face in the entire world. She works her magic on him and then works her way up the food chain to his wealthy patron. Once she's had her way with the two men, she runs back to the arms of her one true love with plenty of cash now in her possession and their money problems over. Set in the Rome of the 1700s, it's played more for laughs than anything else, this one takes a few pot shots at the Catholic Church but is otherwise a fairly playful tale.
The second story, Marceline, also named after the lead female character (and played by Gaelle Legrand), is set in France roughly two hundred years ago. Marceline looks to be in her early twenties but acts like a child sometimes, and she shows a rather unusual fixation on her pet rabbit, Pinky. Her parents worry that her fixation with the rabbit might be unhealthy so they take it from her and eat it for dinner, tricking her into eating it by telling her that it's lamb. When she finally learns the truth about what happened to her loving pet, she sneaks out and in an act of defiance hops into bed with the local butcher who wastes no time deflowering her in his place of work where they are surrounded by both living and dead animals. After the dirty deed is done she coerces the man into taking his own life and then uses his butcher's knives on her parents, getting revenge for her poor rabbit once and for all and framing the butcher for what she's done. This second story is definitely the more twisted of the three, involving bestiality (a common theme and strange fixation in Borowczyk's filmography), murder and carnal relations. There is a sort of black humor behind it all but it's certainly more unsettling than the first or third acts of the picture.
The last story, Marie, is set in the modern Paris of the era in which the film was made and it follows an upper class woman named Marie (Pascale Chrisophe) who finds herself kidnapped by a gunman. Her husband doesn't exactly act quickly when he finds out what has happened to his wife and so her captor kills some time by taking advantage of his hostage. Luckily for Marie, her dog knows what's happened and takes it upon himself to save her, killing off the gunman and wasting the useless husband at the same time. Marie rewards her faithful pooch with a tender embrace and the film comes to an end. While not as explicit as the last chapter there's still an underlying current of human-animal relations that gives this twisted story a bit of a jolt towards the end.
The three stories are linked thematically and for that reason they work well together here as a trilogy. The second story, the most famous of the three and the one featured on the cover art for the DVD release, is the more interesting and also the more graphic of the lot but each one has it's merits. The cinematography and attention to detail is fantastic throughout and the movie never looks less than beautiful while the various musical interludes the populate portions of the picture enhance the mood and remind us not to take any of this all too seriously, enhancing the sense of twisted humor that is a large part of why this movie works as well as it does.
Severin presents Immoral Women in an exceptionally nice looking anamorphic 1.66.1 widescreen transfer. Aside from the odd speck of print damage here and there and just a little bit of shimmering in some spots, this DVD looks fantastic. The color reproduction is quite good and there are no problems with edge enhancement. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there is plenty of detail present in both the foreground and the background of the image throughout the film. While there is a bit of grain present and noticeable, it's never overpowering and it just serves to make the image more film like. There's really very little worth complaining about here in terms of the visuals, Severin have done a nice job.
Audio options are provided in both English and French, both tracks presented here in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with optional subtitles available in English only. For older mono tracks, both mixes sound fine. There's a moment or two where you might pick up on some background hiss but it's really minor and you have to be listening for it to notice it. Other than that, there are no problems here and both tracks present the movie with clear dialogue and properly balanced levels.
While this isn't a super stacked special edition, Severin Films has included the film's lengthy original French theatrical trailer (which is basically a series of stills from the film set to music) under the alternate title of Les Heroines Du Mal as well as a text screen biography of the film's director by Richard Harland Smith. Menus and chapter stops are also provided.
A very intelligent and incredibly well photographed slice of European erotica, Walerian Borowczyk's Immoral Women stands the test of time well. Dealing with some truly timeless themes and appealing to both the eyes and the mind, the late director has crafted a genuinely interesting movie that works as well (if not better) as an arthouse film than a sex film but which succeeds wildly no matter which way you cut it. Severin's uncut DVD is short on extra features but it looks great and sounds just fine earning this disc a solid recommendation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.