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Friday, April 28, 2017

GOTO, ISLE OF LOVE -- DVD Review by Porfle

Polish artist Walerian Borowczyk began his film career with bizarre animated shorts and features, then applied his unique artistic sensibilities to live-action film with the amazing GOTO, ISLE OF LOVE, aka "Goto, l'île d'amour" (Olive Films, 1969).

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that this film was one of David Lynch's influences when he conceived his cult classic ERASERHEAD.  While GOTO isn't as overtly surreal as Lynch's work, it's so unremittingly odd, pictorially beautiful (in a perverse way, despite being a stark study in ugliness and decay), and meticulously rendered in gorgeous, finely-etched black-and-white that it exudes an almost intoxicating dreamlike quality during each moment it's on the screen.

Goto is an island where, due to some natural catastrophe, 90% of the population has been wiped out and the survivors exist in an almost primitive state in which they must make do with the crumbling remnants of their former civilization.  The people are governed by a military dictator named Goto (Pierre Brasseur) and live in the walled ruins of a fortress which, in better days, would have been condemned and demolished.

The story is fairly simple.  Petty criminal Grozo (Guy Saint-Jean) is pardoned by Goto and given three important responsibilities--taking care of Goto's beloved dogs, shining his and his beautiful wife Glossia's boots (a task Grozo savors since he's desperately in love with Glossia), and killing flies via several elaborate fly traps that he distributes daily around the heavily-infested fortress. 

Complications arise when Grozo discovers that Glossia (Ligia Branice) is having an affair with her horseback riding instructor, Gono (Jean-Pierre Andréani), with whom she plans to escape the island in a rowboat.  Grozo then puts his cunning little criminal mind to work to hatch a plan that will somehow rid him of both Goto and Gono so that he can weasel his way into the good graces of the henceforth unattainable Queen. 

While the story is an engaging one, what fascinates us about GOTO is the way Borowczyk executes it all as an artist creating a work of cinematic beauty out of the ordinary and at times repellant, the way a sculptor might use a scrap metal heap as raw material in welding together a makeshift masterpiece.

Each scene is filmed in formal, proscenium-arch wide shots dotted with cartoonishly-edited inserts, some in startling full color for emphasis (as when Grozo fantasizes about Glossia's boots or feeds the dogs luxuriously bloody hunks of raw meat).  Stark lighting eliminates all shadows, giving everything a blanched, almost too-real look.  Yet even without the shadows and wild camera angles, the visuals are somewhat reminiscent of German expressionism. 

Paint-peeling ruin and crumbling brick walls are the eternal backdrop of these people's lives, brightened only by rare artifacts which survived the catastrophe.  Scraps of fine clothing and other items are bartered for goods and services, even in the island's brothel where no money changes hands. 

The prostitutes are seen bathing communally in a nude scene quite titillating for 1969, as Grozo indulges himself while dreaming that he is with Glossia. They, along with some lovely shots of horses and a visit to the seaside (the boundary of Glossia's prison from which she yearns to escape), are the only respite from the film's grim tableaux of stagnant despair.

Inhabiting this world are characters all of whom are either rumpled military buffoons or destitute peasants risking extreme penalties (including the guillotine) to pilfer rotting apples that have fallen from the Governor's trees. Grozo himself is an engaging though ratlike little anti-hero, Glossia a flawed diamond in the roughest rough.  Even Goto has enough good qualities for us to empathize with him as more than just a tinhorn tyrant.  

Fortunately, GOTO isn't as depressing as it sounds since Borowczyk's bone-dry, deadpan sense of humor and keen mastery of the absurd keep us engaged in the most delightful and darkly enchanting ways throughout this otherwise hopelessly bleak tale. 

At times it's as though we're seeing the kind of distressingly odd world that illustrator John Tenniel created for "Alice in Wonderland" come to life, as strange and inescapable as a nightmare yet perversely compelling as well.

The DVD from Olive Films has an aspect ratio of l.66:1 with mono French sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of the film's trailer, an introduction by artist and Turner Prize nominee Craigle Horsfield, and the lengthy featurette "The Concentration Universe: Goto, Isle of Love" featuring interviews with actor Jean-Pierre Andréani ("Gono") and several key crewmembers from the film.

GOTO, ISLE OF LOVE never fully engages us emotionally--it's just too odd, in both wonderful yet strangely off-putting ways--but we care when the story takes a classically tragic turn and ends on a haunting note.  Most of all, however, I enjoyed it as a stunning work of pure, joyful cinematic art.  Watching it is like creeping through a nightmare gallery in which the artist's fevered subconscious visions have achieved crude substance.

Order the Blu-ray or DVD from Olive Films


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