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Review: Love Express. The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk (2018)

Chances are if you’re familiar with the work of the late Walerian Borowczyk you’re either a film scholar or you’ve seen/heard of The Beast. But there was a lot more to the man and his career than his X Rated version of Beauty and the Beast. Kuba Mikurda’s documentary Love Express. The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk aims to change that.

Shot for HBO Europe, Love Express documents his career from his beginnings as an animator in his native Poland through his rise to prominence with transgressive films like Goto, Island of Love and Immoral Tales. It also documents his fall from grace after The Beast, being labelled a pornographer and struggling to get projects off the ground.

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For a film about an unconventional director, Love Express has a very conventional style. Clips of his films are mixed with talking-head interviews. We hear from, among other directors, Terry Gilliam, Neil Jordan and Andrzej Wajda. There are also interviews with Borowczyk’s frequent cameraman Noël Véry, Lisbeth Hummel the female star of The Beast and, via old footage, Borowczyk himself. Not being overly familiar with his work besides The Beast and Immoral Tales which I saw in college, most of this was new and interesting to me. Whether Love Express will have the same appeal to those more familiar with his works is another matter.

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One thing that may annoy Borowczyk’s fans is the amount of time devoted to Emmanuelle 5. Although he’s credited as the director, he walked off the set a few days into filming. Reportedly the only footage of his is Love Express, the film within the film from which this film takes its name.

Instead of spending so much time on it, some attention could have been paid to The Story of Sin, the only feature he shot in his native country. It’s mentioned, but not discussed. And if his take on Jekyll and Hyde, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, was even mentioned, I missed it.

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Love Express. The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk should appeal to film students and those like myself who are curious about the man behind the Beast. And in my case, it was a nice bit of nostalgia for the days when I was still as interested in the art house as the grindhouse.

Altered Innocence, who have previously released films such as Knife + Heart and Luz are releasing Love Express theatrically and to virtual theatres in the US.

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