A seemingly all-too-ideal collaborative relationship, it’s fitting that the final major works from both Walerian Bororczyk and surrealist writer André Pieyre de Mandiargues in their respective fields would be intertwined. Although Love Rites (Cérémonie d’amour), Borowczyk’s 1987 final feature film was an adaptation of what would become Mandiargues final novel, Tout disparaîtra, from the same year, as the leading name on Borowczyk Daniel Bird notes in the commentary track for the recently restored print of Love Rites released through Kino Lorber, the working relationship between Borowczyk and Mandiargues was much more than Borowczyk merely adapting Mandiargues’ writing for film. First introduced through Argos Films head Anatole Dauman (1) who had previously produced Borowczyk and Chris Marker’s short Les astronautes (The Astronauts, 1959) as well as Marker’s La jetée (1961) which featured Borowczyk’s wife Ligia Branice, Borowczyk and Mandiargues were kindred spirits with nearly identical tastes in various artistic mediums. Their first collaboration, Une collection particulière (A Private Collection, 1973), a mock-documentary on the “history” of erotic artefacts, most hand-crafted by Borowczyk for the purposes of the short, featured not only Mandiargues’ narration but his own hands demonstrating many of the objects. Une collection particulière was originally included as an introductory short to Borowczyk’s anthology film Immortal Tales (Contes immoraux, 1973), the first segment of which, “The Tide” (La marée) was based on a Mandiargues story. Mandiargues’ 1967 Prix Goncourt winning novel The Margin served as the source for Borowczyk’s La marge (1976) starring Sylvia Kristel and Joe Dallesandro, while Borowczyk’s return to the anthology format also saw him returning to Mandiargues, the “Marceline” segment of Immoral Women (Les héroïnes du mal, 1979) taken from Mandiargues’ 1946 story “The Blood of the Lamb (Le sang de l’angeau).
Borowczyk’s working relationship and friendship with Mandiargues also extended to Mandiargues’ wife, the artist Bona, the two collaborating on a short film, Venus on the Half-Shell (Escargot de Vénus, 1975) featuring Bona’s drawings of erotic snail/human hybrids. As Bird also states in his commentary track for Love Rites, Mandiargues and Bona were two of the few professional collaborators whom Borowczyk formed close personal friendships with (1). Also among this select few was Marina Pierro, who following Behind Convent Walls (Interno di un convento, 1978) became Borowczyk’s leading actress-of-choice. Pierro once recalled one of her fondest memories of Mandiargues; a visit to his house in Place des Vosges by herself and Borowczyk to pick up Mandiargues’ written introduction to Borowczyk: Cinéaste onirique, the coffee table book released alongside The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborune (Docteur Jekyll et les femmes, 1981) in France, Mandiargues proclaiming to Pierro he would never forget the image of her face in the film (2). From Pierro’s perspective, the ’80s were “very rich from the point of creativity”(2) for Borowczyk. However, the ’80s were also a time of many false starts, with Borowczyk’s dream project of a Nefertiti film as well as the erotic drama Ancestral Mansion, which was to star Kate Bush and Terrance Stamp, never materializing. Come the mid-’80s, the type of filmmaking Borowczyk had become associated with was considered out-of-time, the gaps in-between features becoming longer following The Art of Love (Ars Amandi, 1983). Although it’s well-known now that he left directorial duties early in the production to focus on second-unit work, Borowczyk’s name being left on Emmanuelle 5 (1987) certainly did him no favors in terms of future film projects finding eager backers.
Borowczyk did spend a lot of the 80’s designing and building a home as Bird attests in his Love Rites track while also making a return to the animated short with Scherzo infernal (Infernal Symphony, 1984). Given the state of the film marketplace in France in the mid-to-late 80’s, Bird also suspects that Borowczyk could foresee his exit from features in the near future (1). Love Rites then becomes not only an appropriate final feature film, but a rather eerie one as well with its preoccupation on endings. Although many of its themes were central to Mandiargues’ work, Mandiargues too seemed to be in a similar state with a fixation on finality, the title of his novel Love Rites is based, “Tout disparaîtra”, translating to “Everything Will Disappear” or “Everything Disappears” (or “Vanishes”). While Mandiargues is typically cited as the surrealist associate, La marée was specifically written by Mandiargues for the 1959 International Surrealist Exhibition by request of André Breton (3), Borowczyk was greatly admired among the surrealists in his own right. As Pierro said, “It is enough to think of what André Breton said about his cinema, coining his famous definition of “the striking imagination”(2)[i]. Pierro also acknowledged May Ray’s recognition of the value Borowczyk brought to animation (2) as well as pioneering dadaist and surrealist Max Ernst’s admiration of Borowczyk (2). For Pierro, it was Borowczyk’s collaborative relationship with Mandiargues that was “the apex of an artistic process”(2). As much as Love Rites is about endings, it was also a return to what Bird reefers to as surrealism in the “classic literary sense”(1), Borowczyk and Mandiargues’ literary surreal passion play set amidst the backdrop of contemporary ’80s Paris.
Although Mathieu Carrière’s Hugo Arnold is the first of the two main players to be introduced, it is of course Pierro who takes center stage. En route to view a collection of Fortuny gowns, self-centered garment seller Hugo spots prostitute Myriam (Pierro) on the Paris metro. Both amused and transfixed by her public beauty routine, Hugo eagerly dashes after Myriam through the subway. After confirming his suspicions regarding Myriam’s profession, much to his excitement, the two set out and about Paris in what Myriam refers to as their “act”, making various pit stops, including the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church and a park, eventually arriving at the boudoir of Myriam’s mentor, the mysterious Sarah Sand. Upon entering Myriam’s and Sarah Sand’s realm, Hugo finally assumes the dominant position, only for Myriam to reverse the roles, stripping Hugo of not only his prized clothing, shoes and watch, but literally clawing away at his person, his entire sense of self.
Compared with Borowczyk’s other features, Love Rites is the most closely related to La marge. Superficially connected by their contemporary Paris settings, though more substantially both feature-length Mandiargues adaptations center on the concept of prostitution in the context of adopting “roles” or “parts”. The title of “Tout disparaîtra” ultimately being the end result of both “plays” for the male characters in both films. Both films are somewhat similar in tone as well, rather fatalistic, though La marge is decidedly more morose whereas Love Rites feels more bizarre and at times even vaguely threatening, French actor Jean Négroni’s ominous narration resembling the reading of a gothic horror tale. Love Rites is also a decidedly more esoteric affair with an even bigger focus on not simply the theatricality and performative nature of the prostitute/client relationship, but as the title “Love Rites” implies, the ritualistic aspect as well. “Cérémonie d’amour” may have been a re-titling at the producers’ insistence, though the title, along with Hugo’s severance of identity that “Tout disparaîtra” implies, are indicative of ideas that occur throughout several Mandiargues narratives. In his commentary Bird singles out the name of Rebecca Nul, the protagonist of Mandiargues’ The Motorcycle (La motocyclette, 1966)(1). “Nul” as in “null” or “nothing”, the various cérémonies d’amour performed by Nul and her lover Danial Lionart in Mandiargues’ novel all rather ritualistic and sacrificial in nature. Similarly, Myriam’s declaration of submission in Sara Sand’s apartment, Hugo then binding her hands, recalls the submissive agreement made between Vanina, the young woman at the heart of Mandiargues’ The Girl Beneath the Lion (La fille suous le lion, 1958) and her nameless lover. Tout disparaîtra and in turn Love Rites also also comparable with “Marceline”/“Le sang de l’angeau”, with Myriam drawing the blood and turning the tables on a male sacrificial figure, Hugo.
Further emphasizing Borowczyk’s deliberate theatricality, the titular, sacrificial Cérémonie d’amour occurs during what Négroni’s voice-over announces as “Act 2” the moment Myriam and Hugo cross the threshold into Sara Sand’s apartment. Aesthetically, “Act 2” feels more, if not surreal than slightly more fantastical merely by virtue of Borowczyk’s visual design when compared with Borowczyk’s more documentary style of the first half or “act” of the film. Certainly Sarah Sand’s apartment, and indeed Myriam herself seem of a different, almost otherworldly realm with Myriam’s Sadeian tales of Sarah Sand’s sadistic mute Cambodian slave Ping. Yet as David J. Bond wrote in his introduction to The Fiction of André Pieyre de Mandiargues in 1982, Mandiargues’ realm is “a world of fantasy where the rules of the everyday no longer apply and where anything may happen.”(4). Therein lies the subtle brilliance of Love Rites. The entire film, despite Borowczyk shooting the majority of the film in a documentary style, is a surrealist, at times almost mythological fantasy with “realist” contemporary 80’s Parisian life happening on the periphery. Being again a “literary” surrealist film, its Mandiargues’ words that place the narrative in the realm of the fantastic. Both the dialogue as well as the narration are loyal to Mandiargues’ original wording in Tout disparaîtra, some of Mandiargues’ most lyrical and artificial. Here too, Borowczyk is perhaps even more deliberate in highlighting staginess. This is perhaps best showcased throughout Hugo and Myriam’s introductory exchange, shouted across separate subway platforms with both performers openly acknowledging their very public display or “performance”, Hugo asking Myriam “Doesn’t an actress crave publicity as a panther does flesh?” Such unnatural dialogue proved a challenge for Carrière, who admitted in an interview on the Kino Lorber release to getting tripped up a few times due to the script (5). Carrière even stated lunch with Mandiargues was like listening to Mandiargues quote his own text as he “spoke the way he wrote”, to paraphrase Carrière (5).
For Pierro, Mandiargues’ words come like a second language. As Bird observes, Love Rites is Pierro’s most scripted performance when compared to her previous roles for Borowczyk which were more based on presence and physicality (1). Love Rites is Pierro’s most fully realized performance, the first half or “act” carried by Pierro’s pitch perfect delivery, her physicality becoming more and more pronounced as Myriam and Hugo’s surreal late day adventure moves forward. Pierro is also theatrically exaggerated in her mannerisms at times, guiding a willfully blinded Hugo through the streets, down alleyways and to the front door to the building containing Sarah Sand’s flat. Pierro of course only becomes more physical during “Act 2” where the hints of horror in the mood become visually realized. Both Borowczyk and Mandiargues, as emphasized by Bird, were more than adapt and comfortable working with horror (1), Love Rites also closely linked with Borowczyk’s most outright horror film, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborune. In his introduction to Borowczyk: Cinéaste onirique, Mandiargues writes of “the destroying angel”(6)[ii] and of the final fusion of Jekyll, as Hyde, and Pierro’s Fanny Osbourne, “a bloody fusion of male and female… that exalts carnal forms and could be the first beginnings of something as well as the end of everything”(6). Love Rites continues with this idea as Myriam, described by Carrière as an “exterminating angel” tells Hugo following their own bloody fusion to head to The Seine river. “Once there, you’ll be given a new life. The Seine will wash you clean of your past…” Yet as Mandiargues wrote, this “new life” or what could be the “beginnings of something” could also be, as “Tout disparaîtra” implies, the “end of everything”, Hugo encountering Myriam’s double, the central theme in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll, willingly offering himself for another sacrifice.
While the modern Paris setting and Mandiargues connection again relate Love Rites closely with La marge, and to an extent the closing contemporary Paris-set “Marie” segment from Immoral Women, Borowczyk’s stylistic approach to Love Rites has its roots in two documentary shorts Borowczyk shot following La marge, Brief von Paris (Letter from Paris, 1976) and The Greatest Love of All Times (L’amour monstre de tous les temps, 1977). The later a profile of surrealist Serbian painter Ljuba Popovic. Appropriately included as an extra on the Kino Lorber release of Love Rites, Brief von Paris, made at the request of German state TV channel ZDF (3), directly anticipates the on the street style of Love Rites a decade in advance. Essentially a 40-minute montage of Parisian life circa 1976, there are more than a few moments in Brief von Paris that make for an interesting compare and contrast with Love Rites. For instance, Borowczyk’s trek through the metro in Brief von Paris, Borowczyk briefly filming a flute player, whereas in Love Rites it’s a guitar playing busker. Also featuring a shot of a massive advertising billboard for La marge, Borowczyk breaks the fourth wall further in Brief von Paris by filming his own reflection, the various other instances of inadvertent camera acknowledgment from the Parisian public would similarly feature in Love Rites. Borowczyk was still experimenting with form even within the documentary style framework of Love Rites. The entire film in fact could be viewed as experimental in light of the surrealist story presented via a “realist” style. Like in Brief von Paris, Borowczyk’s is especially playful with the editing in Love Rites, often splicing in his own drawings in-between shots that recall some of his earliest work. Even when the film settles into a more “formal” style for “Act 2”, as Bird points out there are still multiple instances of Borowczyk subverting typical “erotic” filmmaking by way of creative framing.
While the Kino Lorber release of Love Rites features the complete 140 cut of the film, two cuts of the film exist as Borowczyk removed two sequences prior to the film’s initial video releases which ran around the 87 minute mark. The first omission involves Myriam removing a knife from her handbag during her and Hugo’s initial conversing. Borowczyk’s cutting of the scene is curious as it provides some fascinating and potentially confounding foreshadowing for the film’s conclusion where Hugo meets the second Myriam. The second and longest cut is an entire ten minute, almost travelogue-esque segment involving an overly excited Japanese photographer snapping shots of everything in sight, especially Myriam and Hugo, tourists at a cafe and Myriam and Hugo being pestered by a neck-tattooed ex-con. Although the photographer, tourists and ex-con were characters imported from Mandiargues’ book, this small break in the main story plays out almost like a mini-sequel to Breif von Paris, Borowczyk shooting anything that catches his eye. The bits with the Japanese photographer looking directly at the camera also somewhat resemble the brief moment of Borowczyk filming a photographer taking shots of being filmed by Borowczyk in Brief von Paris. Borowczyk also further experiments with modern and classical audio/visual juxtapositions in these moments, similar to the mix of ambient urban noises and Wager’s “Tannhauser” in The Greatest Love of All Times, contrasting imagery of modern Paris while the swooning, gothic organs of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” hypnotically blare over the soundtrack.
Despite the change of title and the somewhat misleading emphasis on the film’s light S&M content for its poster campaign, the original title of “Tout disparaîtra” proved to be an omen on the release front too. Be it the previously mentioned state of French film or Borowczyk’s reputation at the time, Love Rites more-or-less disappeared upon its original release in France and abroad where it was released in some territories as “Queen of the Night”. A reference to Sarah Sand’s favorite plant, it’s also a title that gives the film more erotic as well as horror connotations. Although Love Rites marked the end for Borowczyk in terms of feature films, it wasn’t entirely the end for Borowczyk behind the camera, Borowczyk directing four episodes for French erotic series Série rose in 1990 and 1991. “Un traitement justifié” starred Pierro while “L’experte Halima” featured Mandiargues and Bona’s daughter Sibylle. Borowczyk’s splicing of his drawings in-between certain frames of Love Rites was yet more foreshadowing as Borowczyk would focus mainly on graphic art post-Love Rites and Série rose along with writing. Mandiargues passed in 1991, though he did pen the forward to Anatomy of the Devil (L’anatomie du diable), an illustrated collection of short stories written by Borowczyk that was published in 1992. Borowczyk also wrote and illustrated a strange children’s book during this period, Dumb Animals (Les bêtes sont-elles bêtes?), though it took until 2015 to see publication. It’s worth repeating one final point from Bird’s commentary, that being the tendency some have to separate all the various areas Borowczyk worked in into their own individual corners when the truth is they were always interconnected (1). Love Rites is perhaps the best example why, drawing on all previous aspects of Borowczyk’s career from animation and documentary shorts to graphic works in a surreal Mandiargues adaptation with traces of eroticism and horror. An absolutely essential final masterwork.
1. Kino Lorber. 20201.
2. Arrow Video. 2015
3. Bird, Daniel. “Boro, Walerian Borowczyk”. Le Chineur éditions. 2017.
4. Bond, David J. “The Fiction of The Fiction of André Pieyre de Mandiargues”. Syracuse University Press. 1982.
5. Kino Lorber. 2021.
6. Mandiargues, André Pieyre de. “Borowczyk: Cinéaste onirique”. Editions Walter/Albatros. 1981
[i]”L’imagination fulgurante” or “The dazzling imagination” was Breton’s complimentary description of Borowczyk. Borowczyk would later use the phrase as the title of an art exhibit.
[ii] Mandiargues’ use of the term “destroying angel”, while obviously partly an allusion to the image of a knife-wielding Pierro during the climax of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborune, is also in the context of the impact of the film being too much for certain audiences. Mandiargues’ writes: “The caresses, rapes and murders in this Dr. Jekyll will be too much for sensitive souls, for it has the ability to shock and hurt like a fist or a knife. And the hand that caresses, the one that kills, is the hand of a dark angel, the destroying angel, here seen as a seductive androgyny formed by the pair of Jekyll and Fanny Osborune…” Mandiargues’ own creation of Marceline also has “destroying angel” qualities, taking a blade in retaliation against familial authority in Le sang de l’angeau and Borowczyk’s subsequent adaptation in Immoral Women.