Contes immoraux (1974)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Movies
April 27th, 2003 • 8:56 pm

I suppose that it is easy to argue that the main purpose of such a movie is to titillate. By today’s standards, it certainly is not “shocking” in its depictions of sexuality.

(The most shocking of the four tales is supposed to be the last one, about Lucrezia Borgia. But it is a well-known story, and little effort is made to turn the characters INTO real human beings and give actual weight to the incestuous aspect of the relationship.)

What I found interesting about the movie is that it was at least an attempt at authentic movie-making. In spite of the large amount of full frontal nudity, it certainly is not a pornographic movie — and it’s not really an erotic movie either. It is a movie that uses nudity and (more or less explicit) sexuality. The distinction is important.

I found the power play in the first tale rather unnecessary. Little effort is made to justify why the male character should have such an ascendancy over the young girl. In truth, little effort is made to depict the male character (played by a very young Fabrice Luchini) as anything other than a complete jerk. But the fantasy itself and the sea imagery are interesting. The whole thing makes you wish for a better story in the same setting.

The second tale is the most “erotic” one, with the young, sexually repressed, religious woman discovering self-love with a few accessories. It is well executed, with very little dialogue, and the long intimate scene that forms the bulk of the tale is quite “realistic”, in an exciting kind of way.

The third tale is the most striking, with the climactic blood bath (literally). Here again, very little dialogue — but an intriguing mix of sex, history, politics, and perversion. It is probably the most “disturbing” of the lot — in that such cruelty in our recent past is actually not so difficult to imagine. It could even be perceived as a highly symbolic tale with more than a little resonance with the politics of today’s world.

The last tale is under-developed, and lacks substance. It is also fairly ordinary from the point of view of depiction of sexual acts.

What is “immoral” about these tales — beyond the obvious immorality in their respective times? It certainly is an interesting title, and raises interesting questions. I really feel that the director (Walerian Borowczyk) and writer (French author André Pieyre de Mandiargues) at least tried to create something that would have some artistic value. Did they succeed? It is of course debatable. But at least it enabled me to envision a world in which nudity and sexuality would not be so taboo and would actually be an integral part of the visual and narrative palette available to the modern movie-maker.

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