Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Walerian Borowczyk is known almost exclusively now as an erotic filmmaker with an art house pedigree and a fantastic imagination -- I don't recommend the pornographic monster movie La bête but it does has its own kind of squeamish merit. I haven't seen his other strictly erotic films but I remember seeing a couple of his imaginative animated short subjects in High School - they were as interesting as those by Jirí Trnka. But he did make one amazingly good later feature about a desperate love with horrible consequences, sort of a cross between Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Pabst's Pandora's Box called A Story of A Sin, or A Story of Sin. It just knocked me out, and I wish it would come to DVD in a quality edition.
Goto, l'île d'amour is Walerian Borowczyk's first feature, a quizzical totalitarian satire released in 1969 and in some ways reminiscent of his animated work.
Goto is an island monarchy that's been out of contact with the rest of Europe since an 1887 tidal inundation. The three leaders since then, Gotos I, II and III have kept the island 'safe' from outside corruption. The place is a total dictatorship, where the present leader Goto III (Pierre Brasseur) is given total authority over everything - who does what jobs, who lives and who dies. The island has no culture save for a pair of miserable musicians. Goto also keeps a royal house of prostitution, where the clients take their numbers and wait their turn. Two convicted criminals are paired off in a blood sport game. The survivor Grozo (Guy Saint-Jean) is given a job polishing the royal boots and setting flytraps. Meanwhile, Goto's wife Glyssia (Ligia Branice) pledges him eternal love but is carrying on a hot affair with the horse groom and captain of the guard, Gono (Jean-Pierre Andréani). Grozo soon grows ambitious and takes steps to make his position more secure - by murdering his immediate superior, the senior flycatcher, and conspiring to have Glyssia for himself!
Goto, l'île d'amour is organized very much like one of Walerian Borowczyk's famous animated films. Camera movement is infrequent and rooms tend to be observed like diorama shadow boxes. Movement is mostly left and right in a visually flat frame. Long lenses predominate. Four or five times, the B&W movie is interrupted by color inserts. In each case they're flashes of buckets of bloody meat or the like, unpleasant and odd details. One last cut is a longer blurry shot that's just as vague and mysterious.
The story is easy to follow but the characters are difficult to relate to. The pompous but placid Goto III (Pierre Brasseur of Eyes Without a Face) is a selfish man born into his privileges. Grozo starts off as a sniveling coward, convicted of an unknown crime; he turns out to be a rather diabolical schemer and usurper, and not a likeable one. The groom Gono hasn't much personality. That leaves the trapped Glyssia, played by Ligia Branice, who had the key role in Chris Marker's unique La Jetee, the science fiction time-travel film executed mostly in stills. Glyssia is fond of Goto III, impassioned by Gono and sympathetic of Grozo's plight. She ends up suffering the most of all. Of the smaller parts, Ginette Leclerc has a few tangential moments as a prostitute.
Besides the clear anti-dictatorship message, there isn't a great deal to be gleaned from the story, which has interesting details but seems to be mostly a filmmaker's experiment in a new form. Borowczyk has no trouble directing his actors, and all of them come off well even as their movements appear to be greatly restricted. The erotic details are limited to a few peepshow-like views of naked women in their bath and Glyssia and Gono's affair in the horse-barns. Borowczyk purposely keeps most emotions at arms' length.
The opening makes clever use of a lenticular portrait of all three Gotos, that hangs in front of a classroom. Boys on the left see an image of Goto I, those in the middle see Goto II and those on the right see Goto III. School instruction centers on memorizing the importance of these three exalted citizens. To vary the education, the teacher moves the boys
around the classroom, so they can get variety in their Goto worship.
Cult Epics' DVD of Walerian Borowczyk's Goto, l'île d'amour is a good, if greyish, enhanced transfer of a mostly spotless B&W element. The color inserts are slightly faded and look mostly red. The audio track, which uses generous helpings of music by Händel, is clear.
A long trailer helps us identify the leading players as well as tells us how to pronounce Borowczyk's name: It's BORO-CHECK. Now I can stop saying BORO-WIZZIK. As a special added attraction the disc contains one of Walerian Borowczyk best animated short subjects, the clever, dreamlike Les Austronautes from 1959. The 12 minute film stays rather abstract but has elements in common with This Island Earth: The cut-out paper spaceship encounters two outer space rockets fighting and blows up one that looks like the aggressor. But the smaller of the ships, a red cone, destroys our craft and it falls back to Earth.
Rayo Casablanca provides a filmography and a short Borowczyk essay on a liner insert illustrated with sensual Italian ad artwork that grossly misrepresents the film. The movie is more like Eraserhead than Borowczyk's later Emmanuelle movies.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Goto, l'île d'amour rates:
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Borowczyk short subject Les Astronautes, trailer.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 8, 2006
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson