Les Jeux des Anges (1964)
Regardless of his many artistic achievements, Walerian Borowczyk will likely be remembered for making pretentious skin-flicks during the seventies and eighties. Before he became intractably associated with the European smut genre by directing features The Beast (1975) and Immoral Women (1979), Borowczyk created animated short films every bit as strange and experimental as his counterparts in the worlds of painting and sculpture.
Borowczyk was raised in Kwilcz, Poland and as a student he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Before moving to France, Borowczyk collaborated with designer and animator Jan Lenica on some of his early short animated films including Once Upon a Time (1957) and House (1958). Both avant-garde shorts juxtapose newly created drawings with appropriated images and photographs, such as overexposed footage sparring pugilists or a random appearance of Di Vinci’s Mona Lisa. After moving to Paris, Borowczyk collaborated with filmmaker Chris Marker on the 12-minute comedy Les Astronautes (1959) which was recognized at the Venice Film Festival and the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival in Germany.
Borowczyk’s early approach to animation often stressed a collision of disparate visual styles, like a mixed media collage in motion. House features a mix of live-action, three-dimensional stop-motion using objects as well as two-dimensional animation with illustrated images. Borowczyk’s post-modern use of famous images, found objects and photo cut-outs greatly impacted the next generation of animators – including Terry Gilliam and the Quay Brothers, who have acknowledged Borowczyk as a source of inspiration.
When Gilliam was asked by London’s The Guardian newspaper to compile a list of The 10 Best Animated Films of All Time, he selected Borowczyk’s Les Jeux des Anges (1964) to stand amongst the greats of the medium. “Les Jeux des Anges was my first experience of animation that was utterly impressionistic” Gilliam wrote in 2001; “It didn’t show me anything specific, just sound and movement from which you create a world of your own.” In Gilliam on Gilliam, the director describes the first time he saw animation byBorowczyk; “Jeux des Amges was just extraordinary: the sense that you’re on a train with the walls of the city going past, and then the sound of angels’ wings – incredible.”
The abstract visual style of Les Jeux des Anges (The Game of Angels) is more consistent and evolved compared to the sporadic, cut-together sensibility of Borowczyk’s early films. With muted colours and the pacing of a factory conveyer belt, Les Jeux des Anges contains some sublime moments which achieve a level of artistry on par with surrealist masters like René Magritte and Yves Tanguy. Borowczyk’s first feature length film, Le Théâtre de Monsieur et Madame Kabal (1967), is an hour and thirteen minutes of abstract animated comedy, with brief live-action segments. Unfortunately the film’s single-colour notebook doodle aesthetic feels like a step backwards, as it never attains the visual and emotional impact of Les Jeux des Anges.
During the early sixties, Borowczyk also directed a black-and-white stop-motion short titled Renaissance (1963) which is remarkably different from Les Jeux des Anges in design and effect. Created with ready-made objects, Renaissance begins amongst the wreckage of a bombed-out apartment which then undergoes a miraculous transformation when objects and furniture begin to reassemble themselves, one-by-one. Rather than continuing to make films that pivot between styles of animation, Borowczyk thankfully knew enough to confine Renaissance to stop-motion and render Les Jeux des Anges in two-dimensional paintings only – allowing each project to feel like its own fully-formed world, without being undermined by calling attention to the filmmaking process. In this period of his career before switching to live-action features, Borowczyk demonstrates growth and improved discipline as a filmmaker by finding the boundaries that are necessary to even the most abstract work of art.