Blu-ray Review: Story of Sin

Posted: April 6, 2017 in Arrow Video
Tags: , , , , ,

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: March 28, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 130 mins

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Audio: Polish Mono Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.66:1

Notes: This release includes a DVD edition of the film.

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“For me, bringing Story of Sin to the screen was the perfect pretext for making a popular film, a melodrama that would stir people as the novel once did. The book is sometimes spoken of as a ‘disaster’… but disasters are indefinite and relative. It happens that a work dismissed as a failure can—with the help of time—mature, just like wine, and that a new generation can find that it has a distinctive flavor, or even that it’s so bad that it’s interesting. ‘Story of Sin’ isn’t a failure, but it is stylistically uneven. That doubtless springs from the fact that it was written in weekly installments and serialized in a magazine.” Walerian Borowczyk (Story of Sin Press Book, 1975)

The “unevenness” spoken about during the above quote manages to make its way onto celluloid in Walerian Borowczyk’s Story of Sin—a film that found criticism upon its initial release for being pornographic. Frankly, the only sin this film is really guilty of is boring its audience. One wants very much to admire the film because there are some undeniably brilliant touches throughout its duration, but none of the film’s better attributes are enough to make the viewer actually care about the allegory being played out on the screen.

The narrative itself isn’t particularly unique either. It concerns the trials and tribulations of a beautiful, young, and pious woman who is thrown into chaos when her parents take in a dashingly handsome lodger. Having embarked on a torrid affair, the lodger goes off to Rome to seek a divorce from his estranged wife. Unable to live apart from her beloved, our heroine leaves home only to fall prey to the infatuations and lusts of a band of noble admirers, unsavory criminals, and utopian do-gooders. The only feature Walerian Borowczyk (The Beast, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne) made in his native Poland, Story of Sin transforms Stefan Zeromski’s classic melodrama into a smoldering meditation on l’amour fou—but it never catches fire.

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy houses the two discs in their usual clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve that provides the option of choosing between the original poster art and newly commissioned artwork by Andrzej Klimowski. A film’s original one-sheet artwork is usually preferable to home video artwork, but Klimowski’s artwork is vastly superior to the original Polish poster.

Inside the case is an incredible illustrated collector’s booklet that is longer and more in depth than their standard booklets. In addition to the restoration notes and disc credits, Arrow includes five essays and interviews. These include an excerpt from an article published in the January 18th, 2008 edition of the Polish national newspaper Dziennik Polska-Europa-Świat that was written by Andrzej Żulawski—a respected Polish filmmaker. It is titled “Andrzej Żulawski on ‘Story of Sin’” and acts as an introduction to the other writings. There is also an essay by Szymon Bojko entitled “Borowczyk: Movie Magician” which was originally published in the Norwich International Animation Festival’s 2006 catalog. This essay mixes biographical information about Walerian Borowczyk with a personal recollection. Also discussed is Borowczyk’s marriage to Ligia Branice. This is followed by an interview with Borowczyk that was originally published in the press book for Story of Sin in 1975. The interview is an enjoyable read and somewhat enlightening. It is instructive to read what the director had to say about his work as it was being released to the public. Daniel Bird’s retrospective interview with the film’s producer, Stanislaw Rozewicz, follows this and is in quite a bit more depth. Rozewicz discusses the film and his thoughts on Walerian Borowczyk and his work. The final essay in the booklet is also by Daniel Bird and is entitled “Poland’s Immoral Subconscious: Borowczyk’s Polish Years.” This exclusive essay is the most scholarly in this collection of writings and includes a wealth of information about the director—who turns out to be the focus of this entire booklet. Those who admire this film or Borowczyk’s work will agree that this is an invaluable addition to this rather remarkable package.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy’s restoration transfer represents hours’ worth of restoration work and the included collector’s booklet illuminates the process:

Story of Sin was restored by Fixafilm for TOR Film Production. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with the original mono soundtrack. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution on a pinless Lasergraphics Director using the 3-flash HDR mode… Film grading and restoration was completed at Fixafilm, Warsaw at 2.5K resolution. Flickering caused by chemical degradation of the negative was minimized. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed through a combination of digital restoration tools…

…Research into the production history of Story of Sin reveal that a defective camera used for parts of filming resulted in a visible jitter during some parts of the film. This has been removed with the approval of Grzegorz Kędzierski and Daniel Bird.” –Collector’s Booklet

Their trouble was not in vain as the transfer is extremely clean without any noticeable signs of damage. There are a few brief instances of jitter but these are never distracting. There is a nice well-resolved layer of grain that never becomes aggravated by compression issues. Detail is extremely good for a foreign film from the seventies and seems to be only limited by the source materials and directorial choices made during the production. The same thing can be said of the film’s color palette—which is appropriately muted. Viewing this new transfer will be revelatory to those who have viewed any of the film’s previous home video releases.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The film’s original mono soundtrack was transferred from the original re-recording 35mm magnetic tape and is offered here in all of its uncompressed glory. What’s more, it was cleaned of any distracting noise (such as hiss or hum) during the restoration process. It isn’t an incredibly dynamic track, but it serves the film nicely and represents the film’s original mix faithfully.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy’s supplemental package is absolutely stacked. It offers two hours, two minutes, and six seconds worth of video based entertainment that is both instructive and engaging—and this isn’t even counting the disc’s four audio based commentary tracks (one for the feature film and one for each of the three shorts included on the disc).

Audio Commentary by Sam Deighan and Kat Ellinger

Deighan and Ellinger’s commentary isn’t the comprehensive look at the film that one might wish for and one wonders why Daniel Bird couldn’t have provided a more comprehensive and authoritative track (as his essay proves he would have been capable of such a track). Having said this, commentary tracks rarely work for me when the original filmmakers aren’t involved—and some of these are worthless too. Other commentary tracks rarely feel as reliable.

Luckily, we are given a wealth of other extras in this set.

Introduction by Andrzej Klimowski – (1080P) – (08:22)

At a little over eight minutes in length, Andrzej Klimowski (poster designer) discusses the film and Walerian Borowczyk’s filmography in a very general way. As introductions go, this one is more interesting and informative than most.

The First Sinner – (1080P) – (23:33)

This engrossing interview with Grazyna Dlugolecka—the actor who played Ewa Pobratynska in the film—covers a variety of topics. Perhaps the most interesting revelation here is that her relationship with Borowczyk was rather rocky during the production. Fans should be thrilled to have this included here.

The Music Box – (1080P) – (19:00)

This interview with David Thompson finds the critic giving a relatively general analysis of the director’s use of Mendelssohn’s music in the film and how this compares to his approach to music in other films. It should add to one’s appreciation of the film but probably won’t recruit any new devotees.

Stories of Sin – (1080P) – (11:49)

Daniel Bird offers up this short visual essay about some of the fundamental psychological tendencies in the Borowczyk’s work. One must admit that it builds on their understanding and appreciation of the director’s work, and it is fascinating to watch.

Short Films:

Arrow also includes three shorts that were directed (or co-directed by Walerian Borowczyk) and a newsreel documentary that was written by Borowczyk in the late fifties. The shorts were given their own 2K restorations taken from the original negatives making their inclusion here even more significant. There are even a few supplements about these short films thrown in for good measure.

Once Upon a Time (1957) (1080P) – (09:11)

This short includes an optional commentary track by Szymon Bojko (historian).

This interesting short co-directed by Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica recalls the animations of Terry Gilliam. One wonders if Gilliam was familiar with the Borowczyk/ Lenica shorts when he began working on his cut-out animations.

Szymon Bojko is even on hand to offer a commentary track for the film and those who enjoy watching Once Upon a Time will find it instructive.

Dom (1958) – (1080P) – (11:27)

This short includes an optional commentary track by Wlodzimierz Kotonsk (composer).

This is another collaboration between Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica that also makes use of stop motion animation—but not exclusively with cut-outs. What’s more, a more traditional live-action approach is also utilized. This isn’t as interesting as Once Upon a Time but it is worth seeing.

Wlodzimierz Kotonsk’s commentary track offers enough insight to recommend that viewers give it a listen.

 The School (1958) – (1080P) – (07:24)

Includes an optional commentary track by Daniel Bird

This short by Walerian Borowczyk employs an altogether different animation approach as still photographs as a soldier is distracted during his training exercises. He eventually decides to retreat into his dreams. This might be the best of the three shorts included here.

Daniel Bird’s commentary is both entertaining and informative. In fact, it might be the best commentary track on the disc.

Street Art (1957) – (1080P) – (11:34)

Street Art is a documentary newsreel with a script by Walerian Borowczyk about poster art. Those who have a fondness for poster art will find it especially interesting.

Miscellaneous – (1080P) – (07:06)

This video essay examines the newsreel and documentary collaborations of Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica. It gives some interesting general information that adds to the viewer’s understanding about Borowczyk’s unusual career.

Tools of the Trade – (1080P) – (06:24)

Julius Zamecznik discusses the equipment used by Borowczyk and Lenica to make Once Upon a Time. It is nice to have a ‘making of’ featurette included here about one of the shorts on the disc.

Poster Girl – (1080P) – (04:05)

Poster Girl is a short but interesting interview with Theresa Byszewskawho makes n appearance in Dom. Byszewska is a poster artist, illustrator, and printmaker.

Theatrical Trailer – (1080P) – (02:11)

The included theatrical trailer rounds out Arrow’s incredible supplemental package nicely.

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Final Words:

Story of Sin is an admirable but disappointing effort from Walerian Borowczyk than has been given an amazing restoration and Blu-ray release from Arrow Academy. The restoration is so impressive and the disc is so filled with genuinely worthwhile supplemental material that it is almost worth giving a blanket recommendation on these merits alone. However, it is better suited to those with an already established affection for Walerian Borowczyk.

Review by: Devon Powell

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