Walerian ‘Boro’ Borowczyk may well have trained as a painter and lithographer but he began his cinematic career with a series of exquisitely made animated shorts. Though technically his second feature-length film, Goto, Island of Love takes all of the beautiful ideas developed during Boro’s years in animation and deploys them in the context of a live-action film. The result is a film that feels very much like a coming of age, as though the director were clearing the decks of adolescent detritus before embarking on the next step in his artistic development.
Set in an unspecified future in where 90% of the land and 99% of the people have been consumed by a violent cataclysm, Goto, Island of Love follows the inhabitants of an isolated fortress as they fall over themselves to satisfy the whims and urges of an eccentric despot named Goto III (Pierre Brasseur).
Shot entirely in a lusciously grainy black and white that captures every cracked wall and care-worn face, Goto, Island of Love is a dystopia trapped in perpetual reverence for things that are passed. Most obviously past its sell-by-date is a political system in which the entire world seems to be held at the mercy of an eccentric tyrant who is more interested in the potential infidelities of his younger wife (Ligia Branice) than he is in the smooth functioning of his own kingdom. Though easily misinterpreted as a whimsical science fiction film in the tradition of Luc Besson’s The Last Battle or The City of Lost Children, the film is really more interested in exploring the destructive capacity of love, jealousy and vengeance in the form of a convict who rises up through the ranks thanks to his ability to exploit the tyrant’s insecurities.
Though engaging, the plot of Goto, Island of Love is clearly little more than a way of framing a series of unusual cinematic techniques and arresting set pieces. Particularly jaw dropping is the scene in which the tyrant’s wife allows her unhappiness to explode when confronted by a sinking rowboat. Boro focuses his camera on Branice’s face as she moves from angst, to anger, to all-out anguish. The disproportionate nature of her response only serving to deepen the impression that her sorrow has nothing to do with a rowboat and everything to do with feelings of claustrophobia and worthlessness that she cannot possibly acknowledge for fear of angering her tyrannical husband.
Boro is often described as a cinematic artisan. The reason for this is that while most directors take responsibility for everything that appears in their films, Boro would insist upon personally making everything that appeared on screen. In other words, if a drawing were required then Boro would draw it and if furniture were required then he would break out the hammer and nails himself. Though comparatively common in the world of animated short films, this attitude is almost entirely unheard of in feature-length films where directors tend to act like delegating chief executives rather than hands-on craftspeople. This reportedly made for a rather eccentric shoot but it means that this film is much closer to the director’s original vision than almost any other feature film.
Included as part of Arrow Films’ impressive Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection, the Goto, Island Of Love disc also includes a fascinating introduction by the artist Craigie Horsfield and some compelling featurettes covering Boro’s career as well as the production of this particular film.