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  Immoral Tales Ooh! Taboo!
Year: 1974
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Stars: Lise Danvers, Fabrice Luchini, Charlotte Alexandra, Paloma Picasso, Pascale Christophe, Florence Bellamy, Jacopo Berinzi, Lorenzo Berinzi, Philippe Desboeuf
Genre: Drama, Sex, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Here are four stories of sexual intimacy on subjects that should shock polite society. The first is the story of two cousins, one teenage girl and the other a twenty-year-old man who has an idea of how to satisfy his obsession with her mouth. The second has a young woman locked away for being late back from church who finds that her religious ideals may intersect with her sexual desire. The third is the tale of nobelwoman Elisabeth Bathory (Paloma Picasso) who rounded up local virgins for her own devilish aims, and finally three of Italy's ruling Borgia family flount society's morals behind closed doors.

Walerian Borowczyk started his professional career in film as an animator, but soon graduated to making what might well be classed as blue movies, only he didn't, as many did, see himself as a pornographer as what he dealt in was termed erotica. What exactly the difference is between the two is a debate that has never adequately been explained, and I'm not going to attempt to delve into it here, but Borowczyk's fans like to think his works enjoyed a patina of class and sophistication, not least to say subversion, that you simply would not get in most going through the motions porno video that satisfies casual lusts these days.

Certainly there's a lot more body hair on display than what arrived later, and how you feel about that is, like most of erotica or whatever you care to term it, a matter of taste. But Borowczyk, while a cheerleader for the depiction of sexuality in the cinema, also provided food for thought and with Immoral Tales, or Contes immoraux as it was originally known (he had relocated to France by the time this was shot), sets out to tackle taboos and make you think as well as pack in as many naked female (and a few male) bodies as he possibly could. How far he was successful in this is dependent on whether the viewer is concentrating on the imagery or the meaning behind it, of course.

Certainly in the first chapter, where the male half of the couple intellectualises his need for oral sex by dressing it up in coinciding with the high tide in a scene that looks extremely cold, wet and uncomfortable, founders when it's clear from the outset this guy is a total creep, and no matter that his less pretentious cousin is willing to go along with him because he doesn't deserve to be indulged. The second tale is a little better, but also proves diificult to enjoy as when after minutes of simulated masturbation with a cucumber prompted by the medieval reading of a female would-be saint you get a cruel punchline like the one you do, you begin to wonder if Borowczyk is on the side of the men or the women.

If you really have to take sides, that is. The Bathory segment is often described as the best, though that may be because it features the greatest amount of unclothed females; it becomes almost ridiculous at points, but at least with all that washing you cannot legitimately call it a dirty movie. This gained the most attention because Paloma Picasso was the star, daughter of Pablo Picasso and a fashionable figure in Europe, so there was some novelty in seeing her bathe in blood. If anything, this underlines the essential enigma of female sexuality as the film sees it, with no explanation for the Countess's actions (not even the old "She thinks it keeps her young" reason), and Borowczyk is only too happy to equate the mysteries of womanhood with more religious conundrums, as the final tale shows three Borgias, including a Pope, romping with each other while a priest denounces them then is burned at the stake. Vintage material such as Immoral Tales speaks to a specialised market nowadays, but it is stylish even if many will be left pondering what the fuss was about (it was a substantial hit in its time). Music by Maurice Leroux.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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