Monday, 12 March 2018

Review #1,313: 'Goto, Isle of Love' (1969)

Polish-born, French-based filmmaker, animator and artist Walerian Borowczyk is mainly remembered for his erotic works such as The Beast and The Margin, and has been described as "a genius who also happened to be a pornographer." Before he dabbled in eroticism, he produced many animated shorts before his first feature-length piece, the wonderfully weird Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre. His first live-action film, Goto, Isle of Love, employed similar tactics to his hand-drawn experiments: a desolate island setting, limited camera movements, and frustratingly (yet fascinatingly) odd and unrelatable characters. The result is somewhat isolating, but often reminiscent of the surreal genius of Georges Franju, Luis Bunuel and Borowczyk's friend and sometime collaborator Chris Marker.

Tidal inundation has seen the island of Goto cut off from the rest of Europe for three generations. It has seen three leaders since - Goto I, Goto II, and the current ruler Goto III (Pierre Brasseur) - and the monarchy rules as a dictatorship, 'protecting' the island from outside dangers and influences. There seems to be little to do on the island, so Goto keeps himself and his wife Glossia (Ligia Branice) entertained by staging fights between prisoners. Petty thief Grozo (Guy Saint-Jean) manages to survive his battle with a towering lug-head and wins the sympathy of Goto. Grozo's reward is a job building fly-catchers and showing off his work to a classroom of under-educated children. He also uncovers an affair between Glossia and handsome captain-of-the-guard Gono (Jean-Pierre Andreani), and grows bolder and more ambitious in his scheming as he seeks to claw himself up the social ladder.

On an island populated by criminals, no-hopers and aristocrats, Glossia emerges as the only sympathetic character. Played by La Jetee's Ligia Branice, she longs to escape this grey, mundane world, her eyes shining with tears as she watches the boat she hoped to sail away on sank before her. With little to hold on to on an emotional level, Goto becomes an observational piece, a commentary on an isolated society with an obvious anti-dictatorship stance. This is a world so lacking in stimulation that the object which draws the most fascination is a cutting-edge fly-catcher stolen by Gozo and flogged as his own design. It's deliberately farcical but lacking in humour, with the world made even more soul-crushing by the stark black-and-white photography and Borowczyk's preference for limited camera movements. It's an interesting piece but one that will likely leave you feeling cold, but certainly a work of art deserving of rigorous study.

Directed by: Walerian Borowczyk
Starring: Guy Saint-Jean, Ligia Branice, Pierre Brasseur, Jean-Pierre Andréani
Country: France

Rating: ***

Tom Gillespie

Goto, Island of Love (1969) on IMDb

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