The final feature by the great Walerian Borowczyk, who delivered a
uniquely spare and poetic--and obnoxiously uneventful--erotic reverie
with extremely dark overtones that erupt in the horrific final scenes.
This 1988 film followed EMMANUELLE V (1987), the most
insulting of all Walerian Borowczyk’s features. Aside from being the
cheesy straight-to-video crapfest it inherently was, EMMANUELLE V wasn’t
originated by Borowczyk, and so lacked the idiosyncratic obssessiveness
that marks the rest of his films, good or bad. LOVE RITES (CEREMONIE
D’AMOUR/QUEEN OF THE NIGHT) is far from the best Borowczyk was capable
of, but at least it marked a return to form for this skilled auteur, who
died in 2006.
Hugo is a lecherous antique dealer who finds himself
seated next to the leggy Miriam, a wannabe actress/prostitute, on the
subway one morning. He’s immediately smitten, especially since she makes
quite a few subtle but unmistakable overtures. This leads to much
miscommunication until the two finally meet--and almost have sex.
Instead they retreat to a church where they discuss art
and Miriam’s debauched life--and still fail to consummate their
relationship. After a walk through the streets of Paris they end up at
Miriam’s apartment, where Hugo promises, “I’ll make love to you as if
you were my sister.” This of course leads to a further bout of chatter.
“Stop talking and take a look at the cock that has
sprung up before you,” Hugo begs. Miriam obligingly sucks him off but
he’s unsatisfied. They finally have intercourse, which ends with
Miriam tartly informing Hugo that his every move has been recorded by
hidden microphones--and then she attaches Freddy Kruger-like claw
extensions to her fingers and slowly slices him up!
There’s a compelling surreality to this film, which is
extremely uneventful and not a little pretentious, yet contains many
arrestingly bizarre touches. The early conversation between the
protagonists is one such example, conducted via back and forth shouts
between two subway platforms (a none-too-subtle comment on the
difficulty of real connection in modern society). The dialogue is
outrageously stilted and artificial (“Doesn’t an actress crave
publicity as a panther does flesh?”…“We will now kiss with open lips,
and you will surrender your pink-tipped tongue to me”), with the
juxtaposition of such overtly poetic, old world verbiage with gritty
urban settings initially quite interesting. The effect gets old quickly,
Where the film is most intriguing is in the sensuous
and detailed imagery of Walerian Borowczyk, who can always be counted on
to come up with something visually arresting (such as a seduction
sequence viewed entirely through outside windows), even when not much is
happening onscreen (which in this film is unfortunately quite often).
This is especially true in the unforgettable climax, when Miriam slashes
Hugo with her claws. The sequence is a triumph of surreal grotesquerie,
mixing beauty and horror in a manner that recalls Borowczyk’s
masterpiece DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN.
As for the softcore sex scenes (which the Cult Epics
DVD cover art makes out to be far more copious than they really are),
don’t get too excited, as there’s little here to get a rise (pun
intended) out of anyone.
LOVE RITES (CEREMONIE D’AMOUR/QUEEN OF THE NIGHT)
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Producer: Philippe Goes
Screenplay: Walerian Borowczyk
(Based on a novel by
Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues)
Cinematography: Gerard Monceau, Jean-Paul Sergent, Michel Zolat
Editing: Florence Poulain, Guila Salama, Lili Sonnet, Marie-Helene
Cast: Marina Pierro, Mathieu Carriere, Josy Bernard, Isabelle Tinard,
Jacques Couderc, Guy Bonnafoux, Jean Negroni