Immoral Tales Blu-ray Review

Walerian Borowczyk’s erotic 1974 film pushes boundaries with its satirical storytelling

Immoral Tales is an explicitly erotic French film from director Walerian Borowczyk. The 1974 film is an anthology of four different stories. Covering such subjects as masturbation, lesbianism and incest with a surreal focus, it was not one of Borowczyk’s better received efforts from critics. Pushing the envelope with its carnality, the favored art house director began a move to soft-core exploitation that would reach new heights in his next film, The Beast.

France has a long tradition of outrageous cinema meant to engage intellectual audiences. By 1974, erotic films had become a major part of the French box office like Emmanuelle. The critically acclaimed Walerian Borowczyk was barely getting by on his art house efforts when it was suggested he make a film along erotic lines. Immoral Tales still contains the director’s inimitable style and intelligence, working as a grotesque satire on corruption found within the Church and decadent excesses found in the wealthy classes. Sex is the common bond between the various classes in Immoral Tales, touching everyone’s lives in some way.

The four self-contained stories are told with shocking clarity. In The Tide, a young man seduces his teenage cousin as they explore tidal mechanics together on a beach shore. This is the most sensual, amorphous vignette found in Immoral Tales and its most powerful storytelling. Adapted from a surreal short story, it does evoke titillation while fully fleshing out its characters’ internal struggles.

Therèse Philosophe is the story of a young girl around 1890 punished for misbehaving. She is locked in a storage room for three days and three nights inside the church. Inside the room she discovers someone’s stash of hidden pornography, presumably kept there by the priest. The material leads her to discover masturbation.

Erzebet Bathory is about the historical Countess Bathory. One of the most notorious female killers in history, Bathory was reputed to bathe in the blood of young virgins. In this story the Countess gathers young maidens from the local village by force. In her castle they strip down and consume a potion that drive them nearly mad. Bathory is painted as a predatory woman with strong lesbian desires.

Exploring sexual themes with a satirical eye, it approaches soft-core pornography in a whimsical manner.

The final tale is about another historical figure, Lucrezia Borgia and her degenerate family, including Pope Alexander VI. While no actual evidence has surfaced about the Borgias practicing incest, Immoral Tales runs with that idea. Lucrezia Borgia gets pregnant from an incestuous threesome after the Pope discovers his son-in-law is impotent. It is a direct satire against the Catholic Church’s checkered history with corruption.

A fifth tale was included in the original cut of Immoral Tales that would later get expanded to its own film. The Beast is a ridiculous story about the legendary beast of Gevaudan terrorizing the countryside. A French woman runs after her lamb in the forest, losing her dress in the process. Chased by the Beast, a hideous monster, she is eventually seduced by him. Technically cut from Immoral Tales, it is easily the most outrageous story told in the erotic film. It was supposedly cut for time but its hardcore tone feels completely different than the other, more seriously composed vignettes.

Immoral Tales is definitely not for the prudish or easily offended. Exploring sexual themes with a satirical eye, it approaches soft-core pornography in a whimsical manner. Director Walerian Borowczyk achieves something artistic at times, particularly in the interesting opening with The Tide. This is material for those into edgy art house cinema.

Movie ★★★★☆

Immoral Tales Blu-ray screen shot 2

Arrow Video delivers the most satisfying 2K restoration you’ll ever see on Blu-ray for what some consider a pornographic movie from the 1970s. This is a gorgeous new film transfer done in the past year. Its striking color saturation and film texture evoke a perfectly vintage feel. Presented in 1080P resolution at the movie’s intended 1.66:1 aspect ratio, common to European cinema of the time, some variance in picture quality exists between the different stories.

Both the theatrical cut at 103 minutes and its extended original cut, running over 125 minutes, are included on a single BD-50. Encoded in AVC at extremely high parameters, Arrow continues their strong compression efforts. The crisp picture has rich texture and strong detail from the unfiltered transfer. The film-like grain structure only poses a nuisance on Therèse Philosophe. The film elements vary a bit but are mostly in pristine condition. This is easily one of the best color-timings I’ve seen of late. It brings out a nice contrast while maintaining proper flesh-tones and stunning color saturation.

This is a huge improvement over DVD resolution and the best Immoral Tales could possibly look given the extant elements. There are Academy Award winners on Blu-rays that haven’t received this nice of a film transfer.

Video ★★★★★

Sound plays a large role in Immoral Tales since Borowczyk approached his films with the eye of a graphic artist and animator. Immoral Tales nearly works as a silent film with its score and minimal dialogue in certain stories. The included French 1.0 PCM soundtrack has a robust quality to it that hides its age. This is a clean, large sounding score in fine fidelity. Dialogue is intelligible and mixes well with the musical score, which ranges from whimsical to mystical. I was very impressed by the audio’s clarity and depth for a mono recording.

Arrow Video provides new, optional English subtitles in a white font.

Audio ★★★★☆

Arrow Video has coded Immoral Tales for Regions A and B. A German Blu-ray featured a commentary from Daniel Bird not included on this BD. A reversible sleeve featuring original poster designs serves as the cover.

Introduction by Daniel Bird (05:14 in HD) – Film critic Daniel Bird discusses the context of Immoral Tales in this featurette that combines clips with English text commentary.

Love Reveals Itself (16:42 in HD) – A well-done featurette with cinematographer Noël Véry and production manager Dominique Duverge-Segretin. The newly-recorded interviews reveal that Isabelle Adjani was originally picked by Borowczyk to play the girl in The Tide but refused. Noël Véry helped invent an early form of Steadicam in France for Immoral Tales. In French with English subtitles.

Obscure Pleasures (63:15 in HD) – An unaired 1985 British television interview with Borowczyk. He discusses his influences and themes, going over his early graphic artist days as well. A fascinating piece if you are into the man’s work.

Blow Ups (04:43 in HD) – A featurette covering Borowczyk’s work on lithographs.

Theatrical Trailer (02:18 in HD)

Extras ★★★☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a pre-production screener. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

  • Koroshiya1

    Great looking disc and a fun movie to boot. Thought the shorts ‘Erzebet Bathory’ & ‘The Beast’ were the best. The latter had me completely flabbergasted, which is especially one to watch with the whole family.

  • Koroshiya1

    Great looking disc and a fun movie to boot. Thought the shorts ‘Erzebet Bathory’ & ‘The Beast’ were the best. The latter had me completely flabbergasted, which is especially one to watch with the whole family.