Directed by: Walerian Borowczyk
Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Ligia Branice, Jean-Pierre Andreani, Ginette Leclerc, Fernand Bercher
Arrow has done an exemplary job in restoring both the Borowczyk catalogue and, by proxy, the reputation of this most singular of directors from the ghetto that his later soft porn work would condemn him. Available as a box set and now in these individual releases, there has never been a better time to acquaint yourself with this master of the weird, the sexual, the playful and the visionary. An influence on Terry Gilliam and the Brothers Quay, Borowcyzk is an artist who has worked in many mediums. His short work had been mainly in animation, and Goto marks his first live action feature, whilst exhibiting all the preoccupations of his early animated work.
The film is set after an earthquake has wiped out 99% of the population, on an island run by the relatively beneficent totalitarian regime of Goto the Third (Brasseur), part of a dynasty of rulers, whose teachings are indoctrinated into the island's children at an early age. Friendly is a relative term when it comes to dictators; Goto is not above staging public executions or having criminal activity punished with fights to the death. One such combatant, Gono (Andreani), throws himself on the mercy of the tyrant's wife Glossia (Branice) and becomes assistant fly vanquisher and cleaner of boots. In Goto, it appears that everyone is employed in roles that are bizarre but also mundane.
Trying to summarise the plot further than that is an exercise in futility. This is cinema to watch rather than be lost in. The artifice is all too clear. Everything is designed within an inch of its life, the sound design is both staggering and unnerving, the contraptions (all created by Borowczyk), such as the fly traps, are idiosyncratic and inventive. It's like watching a playful flipside to Eraserhead.
That Gono lusts for Goto's wife and murders his way to become vanquisher of flies reads like melodrama but plays in a register both comic, detached and surreal, all played out to the music of Handel, the characters marionettes to be moved at their director's whim. Water is a key motif here, particularly as a carrier of the dead and defeater of ardour. Surreal the effect may be, but there is a Swiftian satire in the absurdities of the regime and a Dostoevsky like resolution to proceedings, all told through a voyeuristic eye that is both sensual and necrotic.
A marvellous effort of pure cinema that is easy to like but very difficult to contextualise, Goto is endlessly rewatchable and rewarding, and the perfect entry point to the artist's work.
Not content with a stellar restoration, Arrow also haven't skimped on the extras. There is an introduction by Cragie Horsfield, who struggles to get a handle on this elusive talent and has a presentational style that is hard to grasp. A 20 minute making of, which talks to those still alive about the difficulties of the film's director and the problems of casting your wife in a film. There is also a short feature that looks at Borowczyk's work as a creator of artefacts that literally make a noise. Odd and strangely beautiful, like the director himself, this is a delight.
By Jason Abbey