Released by: Arrow Academy
Released on: March 28th, 2017.
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Cast: Grazyna Dlugolecka, Jerzy Zelnik, Olgierd Lukaszewicz
Year: 1975 Purchase From Amazon
Based on a novel by Stefan Zeromski, Walerian Borowczyk’s 1975 adaptation of Story Of Sin is the only one of the director’s feature length live action pictures to have been lensed in his native Poland. The film revolves around a young woman named Ewa Pobratynska (Grazyna Dlugolecka), who we first meet while she is giving confession to a priest (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz) warning her to stay away from carnal temptation.
From here, we visit Ewa’s home to learn that her parents (Karolina Lubienska and Zdzislaw Mrozewski) have taken on a boarder in the form of a handsome anthropologist named Lukasz Niepolomski (Jerzy Zelnik). Ewa can’t help but be attracted to him. He’s recently returned from studying at a faraway university and clearly enjoys flirting with her, despite the fact that back in Italy he has a wife from whom the church never officially granted him a divorce. It doesn’t surprise us then that the two quickly carry on a clandestine affair.
When Lukasz is injured in a duel of all things, their relationship intensifies. She tends to him like a wife would her husband but she soon learns that the priest’s warning was not just religious banter. Her relationship with Lukasz bears repercussions once they learn that she’s pregnant. When he heads back to Italy to try to finalize the divorce he wants, things go from bad to worse. When Ewa heads to Italy to find him, what she discovers is heartbreaking and tragic.
Much more of an erotically tinged drama than one of the more explicit sex stories, Story Of Sin is a slow, languidly paced picture that at times seems more concerned with tone and atmosphere than it does pacing. Far less graphic in its depictions of sexuality than better known entries in the director’s filmography (his infamous The Beast/La Bete was made the same year as this film!), the picture is never the less fairly strong stuff, at least in terms of its dramatic content. The story takes us into some very dark territory and while it never feels as if it is dealing in anything crass or exploitative, there’s still an unpleasantness to many parts of the tale. These contrast wonderfully with the film’s art direction, however. This is an absolutely beautiful looking picture from compositional and art direction stand points. The camera work was clearly very well thought out and at times you feel almost as if you’re looking at an old painting. Details such as a piece of laced used in a costume or flowers etched into glass are given unusual emphasis at times, and the lighting casts interesting shadows and plays up deliberate choices in the picture’s color scheme to nice effect.
The performances are strong and at times quite stirring. Grazyna Dlugolecka is particular is very good here. She’s attractive, sexy at times, but also has a fragile wholesomeness to her character that we don’t like seeing exploited. Jerzy Zelnik as the film’s other principal player is also quite strong. They share an interesting chemistry on screen and both performers do a fine job of bringing their respective characters to life.
Arrow presents Story Of Sin on a 50GB Blu-ray framed at 1.66.1 widescreen from a ‘2K restoration from the original film negative’ and it looks excellent. The image is clean, virtually pristine, but there’s no obvious digital scrubbing or noise reduction to complain about. There’s excellent detail, depth and texture while color reproduction looks good, though it definitely leans towards the cooler, slightly subdued side of the palette. The image is free of compression artifacts or edge enhancement and retains a nice, natural looking amount of film grain.
Polish language audio is provided in LPCM Mono with optional English subtitles. The audio is limited in range but it sounds good. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. Balance is also fine and the soundtrack has good presence and depth to it.
There are some great extras on this release, starting with an audio commentary from film critics Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger. There’s a lot of discussion here and the different ways that the film tackles gender roles but also plenty of historical context and critical analysis to go along with it. These two have clearly done their homework, as they dive deep into a lot of the deeper meaning behind the imagery in the film, make some interesting observations about the performances and the visuals and detail where this film fits in alongside other entries in the director’s output. They also discuss the source material that inspired the picture as well as the depictions of sexuality that we see on screen here, compared to some of the more extreme demonstrations that can be seen in some of Borowczyk’s other work. This is interesting and very well thought out – absolutely worth taking the time to listen to.
Also well worth checking out is the inclusion of new 2K restorations from the original negatives of Borowczyk’s striking and unusual Polish animated shorts: Once Upon a Time (co-directed by Jan Lenica and running nine minutes), Dom (also co-directed by Lenica and running eleven minutes) and The School (which clocks in at seven minutes). Each of the three shorts gets an optional audio commentary track from art historian Szymon Bojko and Daniel Bird that provides the viewers with some welcome context and historical information. These early works are interesting to see as you can definitely see how even at this point in his career the director was starting to attach himself to specific themes and ideas throughout his work. Additionally, the restorations look great. Getting the chance to see this obscure material from Borowczyk’s filmography looking as good as it does here is definitely a real treat for fans. It’s also really interesting to see the director experimenting with different types of animation, some of which are very unorthodox indeed.
Getting back to more feature specific supplements, also be on the lookout for a new introduction by poster designer Andrzej Klimowski that runs eight minutes. The Music Box is a great twenty-three interview with Story of Sin lead actor Grazyna Dlugolecka. In this piece she explains how she came to meet the director, the circumstances behind her being cast in the film, thoughts on some of the more controversial content in the director’s output and quite a bit more. The disc also includes a twelve minute video essay that covers Borowczyk's career in Poland hosted by Daniel Bird (co-founder Friends of Walerian Borowczyk) entitled Stories Of Sin. Here he covers the director’s early works completed in his home country and makes some interesting observations about how these films tie in to other entries. The Music Box is a nineteen minute examination of Borowczyk’s use of classical music in his films by writer and filmmaker David Thompson, quite interesting, particularly if you’re into soundtracks and want to know more about how and why they turn out the way they do sometimes. A short featurette called Miscellaneous is a seven minute bit that examines the collaborations that took place between Borowczyk and Jan Lenica on a few of the animated shorts.
Also on hand is an interesting news reel piece that was co-written by Borowczyk and which is essentially a quick little film that examines different kinds of promotional posters, exploring the art that they sometimes portray and the meaning behind them. Tools Of The Trade is another six minute piece that examines the work that Borowczyk and Lenica did together, wherein Juliusz Zamecznik shows off one of the cameras that was used to create Once Upon A Time. In The Poster Girl we spend four minutes with Theresa Byszewska, an artist who had a small role in Dom. She talks about some of the issues that arose in her schooling through her association with Lenica and shares some interesting memories about their working together.
Rounding out the extras is a theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release, a DVD version of the movie is also included inside the clear Blu-ray sized case. Also included inside the case, for the first pressing of this release, is a color insert booklet that contains an interview with Stanislaw Rozewicz the producer of Story Of Sin as well as a piece by art historian and Borowczyk collaborator Szymon Bojko. The booklet also includes excerpts from Borowczyk’s memoirs, translated into English for the first time as well as credits for the features and for the Blu-ray release itself. Arrow has also packaged all of this up with some nice reversible sleeve art featuring the original one-sheet image on one side and some and newly commissioned artwork by Andrzej Klimowski on the reverse.
The Final Word:
Arrow has done an excellent job bringing Story Of Sin to Blu-ray. The movie looks and sounds excellent and this release really is stacked with some top notch extras that add a whole lot of value to this edition. The movie itself might be a bit restrained by the director’s own standards, but it’s no less compelling for it.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!