Directed by: Walerian Borowczyk
Starring: Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Hummel, Elizabeth Kaza, Pierre Benedetti, Guy Trejan
"Let’s talk about horse cock," as one time hip hop duo Salt-N-Pepa never sang. It’s hard to avoid, with the level of equine wanger on show from the get go in Walerian Borowczyk’s most infamous provocation. This is a film about beastly urges and the more lubricious elements of the sexual act. As such, it is not for the faint of heart or weak of trousers.
The sexual act has always been present in the director's work, but here (and also the companion piece that it was originally meant to be a part of, Immoral Tales) sex and sexuality is front and centre. It is this diptych that cemented his reputation as an art house pornographer for the intellectual dirty mac brigade. This is unfair; undoubtedly this is a film that some would view as pornographic, and with the juxtaposition of animal acts, a borderline obscenity, but there is an innocence at play here. Compared to the leering salacious work of someone like Tinto Brass, there is a feeling of a prelapsarian idyll to his depiction of sex as a natural state of being, rather than a tawdry pilfer through the washing basket.
Shot in a naturalistic, almost watercolour style, this feels like a fairy tale (Beauty and the Beast With Two Backs if you will) in which the sexual undercurrents that run under the best of them are brought to the fore with a humorous wink. Not for Borowczyk the clever, clever deconstruction and psychological mind games that the work of Angela Carter and Neil Jordan in The Company of Wolves mined so successfully.
It can be queasy stuff, and that, in many ways, is the point. Mixing bestial and human sex is always going to be an awkward watch at best and offensive at worst, but the argument would be why? Organised religion plays a part in attempting to demonise the act of sexual congress outside of procreation and Borowczyk wrestles it from the clergy to place it as an essential act of being such as eating and defecating, both vital and important functions, but not ascribed with any moral or repugnant viewpoint (unless you are doing both at the same time). Catholicism is represented in the film by a Priest (Roland Armontel) whose affections for the Altar boys in his service looks suspiciously sexual in nature; you get the feeling that it won’t be just the hand of God that will be touching these emissaries of Christ. The hypocrisy of the church lies in denying the sex act as an everyday function while condoning the abuses meted out by its servants.
Rich with meaning and visual pleasures though it is, the plot is relatively simple. The Marquis Pierre de L’Esperance (Lane) is trying to marry his son Mathurin (Benedetti) to Lucy (Hummel), a wealthy heiress who will save their ailing estate and stud farm. Mathurin has never been baptised, due to a deformity, so a deal is done to make reparations to the Church, which will enable his son to be baptised and the wedding to take place.
In between the wedding plans and comically argumentative business between the Marquis and his Uncle Duc Rammaendelo de Balo (Marcel Dalio) is sex, both in thought, in act and intention, be it masturbatory (the bed frame comes in for a bit of a battering) with the help (an unfortunate servant who never gets to finish the job), or putatively with a relative. What got this in trouble with the UK censors (it only just avoided being charged under the obscene publications act) is a notorious dream sequence recounting the tale of a relative of the Marquis called Romilda who history has it fought with a beast in the forest 200 years prior. Dreamt by Lucy in a state of high arousal, this becomes a sexual fantasy of Romilda being taken by the titular monster, only for her to turn the tables on him and literally drain his life essence. A man in a cuddly bear costume mounting a naked actress is hardly going to get anyone up in arms, so Borowczyk gives his monster a horse cock that pumps yogurt out at a rate that would shame Noel Edmonds' gunge tank. It’s amusing, slightly deranged, and absurd and messy. The director may be showing the act of sex in all it’s sticky, absurd glory, but by visualising the beastly urge that lies in us in such an on the nose way, he may have gone too far for some. But that is his art in a nutshell, the power to provoke through imagery and ideology, but always with a playful nature.
At once fearless and farcical, just as Borowczyk intended, this is a completely original work that demands to be seen at least once. Whether you need to see this level of horse knob in HD though is a question between you and your therapist.
By Jason Abbey