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Saturday, April 29, 2017

THEATER OF MR. & MRS. KABAL -- DVD Review by Porfle

Walerian Borowczyk was a Polish avant-garde artist who chose film as one medium through which to express his wildly imaginative musings.  In 1967, he tackled the art of animation with the feature-length cartoon THEATER OF MR. & MRS. KABAL, aka "Théâtre de Monsieur & Madame Kabal" (Olive Films).

Or perhaps "tackled" isn't the correct term as much as "drugged, wrestled into submission, and dressed up funny."

With what appears to be a mix of cel art, cutouts, and other elements (at times it looks as though Borowczyk is drawing directly onto white paper in increments), he tells the story of a day in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal--he a short, mousey husband and she a tall, grotesque wife who appears to be a soulless mechanical monster of some kind.

The first scene catches her in the midst of assembling herself out of spare parts and choosing a head (after many tries, she picks the most alarming-looking one) before going along her un-merry way into what passes for a narrative, which actually isn't one at all.

Mr. Kabal, meanwhile, whiles away his spare time gazing around at the barren scenery through his telescoping binoculars until he catches brief glimpses of live-action women lounging in bikinis who are then menaced by an old man with a beard. These clips are the only color in this stark pen-and-ink world save for a few splashes here and there, including the ever-present butterflies flying endlessly about.

One sequence features the couple lying on the ground (he reading a newspaper, she lying face down) while the butterflies flit by for several minutes.  Some flutter, some flap, and others sound like trash can lids rolling by.


Borowczyk has a field day with the sound design throughout the film, as Mrs. Kabal foreshadows "Star Wars" robot C3PO with her staccato speech consisting of a barrage of electronic beeping noises. 

Borowczyk himself appears early on and urges her to simply act naturally (relatively speaking) so that we can observe the Kabals going through a typical day.  She beeps furiously in response (her dialogue is subtitled in three languages) before conjuring a weight out of thin air to drop on Borowczyk's head. 

The early scenes are the best, because they're slower paced and we can better assimilate what's going on, as nonsensical as it is, such as Mrs. Kabal shedding her outer metal husk in order to bath in the ocean, or Mr. Kabal attending a cinema show entitled "The Depths of the Human Body" which features live-action closeups of pulsating organs and a quivering esophagus.

In another scene, a giant crosscut saw separates Mrs. Kabal's head from her reclining body, which then expands to such great size that Mr. Kabal immediately scampers inside to explore the depths of its Escher-like interior.

As the film progresses, so does the pace, until we're assailed by a dizzying procession of utterly bizarre and senseless images that grow more relentlessly incomprehensible by the minute.  Finally the story is nothing more than pure stream-of-consciousness incongruity, and the effort to take it all in becomes rather taxing. 

For this reason it may be advisable to watch THEATER OF MR. & MRS. KABAL in several short bursts rather than trying to handle it all in one mind-numbing sitting.  The more adventurous cineastes among us may consider the latter something of a challenge, while others will be both unable and unwilling to endure more than a few minutes of it.

One thing's for sure--I would be very surprised if Terry Gilliam, who supplied the celebrated animations for "Monty Python" throughout his tenure with the group, weren't at some time influenced by Borowczyk's work, just as the Polish artist's later live-action film GOTO, ISLE OF LOVE seems to foreshadow the early stylings of David Lynch.   

The story of the Kabals is similar to GOTO in its arbitrary and thoroughly unapologetic strangeness for its own sake (or, rather, for art's sake).  But unlike that film with its more coherent plot and less rampant surrealism, the almost hallucinatory THEATER OF MR. & MRS. KABAL remains in the uppermost stratosphere of strangeness from beginning to end, like the long, fervid dream of a rarebit fiend, and dares us to still be there when it's finally done.

Tech Specs
Regional Code: region 1
Languages: French
Subtitles: English (optional)
Video: 1.33:1 aspect ratio; b&w + color
Runtime: 78 minutes
Bonus features: none

Buy the Blu-ray or DVD at Olive Films


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