Walerian Borowczyk's final feature-length film is an adaptation of an André Pieyre de Mandiargues novel, and follows a similar fairy tale format, as in Borowczyk's nutty & naughty 1975 film, "The Beast" ("La bete"). "Love Rites," however, is more about role playing: both lead characters meet in the subway, and after a lengthy long-distance exchange across opposing station platforms, they adopt personas and form their own erotic play, of which only the superficially submissive woman knows the true ending.
In addition to the longer complete version, Cult Epics' DVD has also added a Director's Cut: a shorter version, lacking two scenes. The changes echo alterations done to the final release version of "The Beast" - trims made by Borowczyk to smooth overall pacing - but they're literally whole sequences lopped off a longer “Complete Version” video master without better regard for continuity (and music transitions).
The first scene is an extension of the couple's subway courting, and has pretty Marina Pierro reading from a book, and handling a long knife; granted the first third of the film pretty much involves traversing streets and visual/physical contact within a subway station, but her reading follows the philosophical banter that binds their obsessive minds, and contrasts Mathieu Carriere's constant public groping; the knife also functions as an omen for the film's violent denouement (which oddly recalls the unending torment in Takeshi Miike's more vicious 1999 audience tester ,"Audition").
The second scene introduces a Japanese tourist with a roving camera he sets to public displays of 'pure love' (a cliché that arguably harms the film when Borowczyk's mysterious tone is well underway); plus a recently released ex-con, who hustles & hassles the couple as they relax in a park. Encounters with sage or threatening strangers is cliché endemic to Zalman King's work, and one's familiarity with King's own regurgitated cliches might affect the lighthearted aspects of Borowczyk's middle interlude; before the couple move the story towards a more masochistic turn.
The transfer is a good conversion from a PAL master, with only minor digital compression in spots; colours are somewhat muted, and there's a slight softness overall. The French language track is clear, and the English subtitles frequently attempt to evoke the poetry of Borowczyk's French dialogue with more contemporary slang. If you're fluent in French, there's more to enjoy from the more precise terminology the characters use to reshape their fluxing relationship.
While "Love Rites" can be regarded as a lesser work, it's still a well-made oddity from Borowczyk, who covers various oral fetishes and practices with his obsessive lens, and reveals a playful attitude towards displays of naughtiness smack in the middle of a claustrophobic urban setting.
Pierro seemed to give up on acting after this film, although most of her prior film work was for director Borowczyk, and includes "Ars amandi/The Art of Love" (1983), "Docteur Jekyll et les femmes/Dr. Jekyll and His Women" (1981), "Heroines du mal/Immoral Women" (1979), and "Interno di un convento/Behind Convent Walls" (1978). Borowczyk subsequently directed an episode of the French TV series "Seri rose) in 1986 before apparently retiring from active filmmaking.
The Walerian Borowczyk Collection includes "Goto, Island of Love," "Love Rites," and single-disc edition of "The Beast," and four postcards featuring images from the three films that are also available separately.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan