Walerian Borowczyk’s ode to romantic love gone wrong
A pious young woman falls madly in love with a married man, leading to her eventual ruin. The only feature by director Walerian Borowczyk (The Beast) made in his native Poland, Story of Sin transforms Stefan Zeromski’s classic novel into a harrowing tale of romantic love gone tragically wrong. Borowczyk crafts a period melodrama with stunning insight and powerful character development, possibly the most realized of his career.
After such films as The Immoral Tales and The Beast from Borowczyk, which can kindly be referred to as arthouse smut, you would be forgiven for presuming Story of Sin falls along similar lines. While the film does paint a sordid tale of murder, infanticide, and loathsome characters, it serves far more than prurient interests. Set at the dawn of the 20th Century, it’s a carefully drawn film that still manages to dabble in some of Borowczyk’s favorite themes without going overboard. Namely, the oppressive customs of the bourgeois and the ongoing sexual development of his female protagonists in polite society.
It’s well-crafted with an interesting classical score
It’s well-crafted with an interesting classical score
Story of Sin’s central character is Ewa (Grazyna Dlugolecka), a young woman from a respectable Polish family. Her youthful ideas of romantic love will be severely tested when her family takes in a handsome lodger. Lukasz Niepolomski (Jerzy Zelnik) has moved to the city looking for a divorce. Almost immediately a romantic spark ignites between Ewa and Lukasz. The couple fall deeply in love before Lukasz moves away, communicating with passionate love letters.
Lukasz must get his divorce from the Catholic Church before he can marry Ewa, which isn’t so easily granted in the Poland of this period. This doesn’t stop them from becoming lovers. A series of dramatic developments take place between Lukasz and Ewa, which leads to grave consequences for Ewa. Ewa’s love for Lukasz never wavers despite a couple of horrific reveals that puts him in a completely new light. Ewa turns to prostitution and a life of crime due to circumstances beyond her control. She encounters an increasingly loathsome set of men pursuing her for various reasons.
There is a voyeuristic quality as Story of Sin paints Ewa’s development from naive virgin to jaded prostitute in fairly graphic terms. There are sex scenes but they are usually not in the erotic sense one may think. Each one reveals a different step in Ewa’s characterization, giving us insight into her changing emotional state. Twisted by life and the men around her, it’s easy to understand how the sweet Ewa is transformed by social forces beyond her control into an immoral creature capable of great evil. She remains a sympathetic figure up until the end, despite some terrible decisions made along the way.
Story of Sin may be Walerian Borowczyk’s most straightforward film. It’s well-crafted with an interesting classical score that picks and chooses select pieces from composers like Mendelssohn and Pachelbel. It’s a moral tableau carefully laid out using the life of Ewa’s tragic and foolish love, ending in her ruination.
Arrow Academy provides a handsome presentation for Story of Sin, using a new film transfer struck from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. This is an undoctored transfer with film-like fidelity and crisp resolution. That being said, the classic European cinematography isn’t razor-sharp with outstanding definition. The properly framed 1.66:1 video has the look of solid film elements restored with the best current tools.
The 130-minute main feature is encoded in strong AVC on a BD-50. Arrow supervised the digital clean-up, removing some evident jitter and other problems according to the included booklet. This is professional work, leaving zero trace that the film needed a serious restoration. The palette itself is reserved, though its black levels are surprisingly deep with excellent shadow delineation.
The original mono soundtrack was transferred from the original re-recording 35mm magnetic tape and restored to pristine quality. The Polish 1.0 PCM soundtrack sounds vibrant for a 1975 production with fantastic life and range.
Dialogue is utterly intelligible as the film is mostly quiet drama, but several scenes are powerfully accompanied by recognizable classical music. I was not expecting much from this recording but Story of Sin sounds great for a European production from the Seventies.
Optional English subtitles display in a white font.
Arrow Video has always gone the full mile when it comes to Borowczyk’s films and this effort is another loaded release with new special features. This is a two-disc set with a DVD mirroring the BD included. The commentary is delightful, offering fascinating perspectives on the film while covering a wide range of topics involving the Polish director. A reversible sleeve includes original and newly commissioned artwork by Andrzej Klimowski.
First pressings only will include a fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new and archival writings, including an exclusive interview with the producer of Story of Sin, director Stanislaw Rozewicz; a text by art historian and one-time Borowczyk collaborator, Szymon Bojko, and excerpts from Borowczyk’s memoirs presented in English for the first time.
Coded for all regions, this American release is identical to Arrow’s UK release.
Audio commentary with Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger – It’s nice to hear two women for a change on a commentary. This is a lucid, engaging discussion of the movie and its themes.
Trailer (2:11 in HD)
Introduction by Andrzej Klimowski (poster artist and illustrator) (8:20 in HD)
The First Sinner: An Interview with Grażyna Długołęcka (23:31 in HD)
The Music Box (Interview with writer and film maker David Thompson) (19:00 in HD)
Stories of Sin: A Guide to Walerian Borowczyk (A Visual essay by Daniel Bird) (11:47 in HD)
Short Films and Miscellaneous:
– Once Upon a Time (1957) (9:11 in HD) – optional commentary by art historian Szymon Bojko and moderator Daniel Bird
– Dom (1958) (11:27 in HD)
– With optional commentary by composer Włodzimierz Kotoński and moderator Daniel Bird
– The School (1958) (7:24 in HD) – optional commentary by Daniel Bird
– Miscellaneous: Newsreels and Documentary (2016) visual essay (7:04 in HD)
– Street Art (1957) (11:34 in HD)
– Tools of the Trade (2016) featurette (6:22 in HD)
– Poster Girl (Interview with poster artist Teresa Byszewska) (2016) (4:03 in HD)
Full disclosure: This disc was provided to us for review as a pre-production screener. This has not influenced DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
A troubling tale of morality that falls on one young woman as she fights for love in an repressive society.
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