The Story of Sin

From the title down, this film is an ironic retelling of the Fall myth. It starts with Eva going to confession and being advised by the priest to remain humble and chaste when confronted with advances from admirers (inevitable apparently, given her beauty). Even the priest isn't immune, casting a longing glance as she walks away. The 1908 novel that supplies the story was serialised, making the plot rather loopy, but the climax comes two thirds of the way through when Eva is forced to tempt and kill an innocent man by two villains. As someone who enjoys his fair share of blasphemy, that restaging of Adam's temptation felt particularly succulent. At the end of the film, Eva atones for her crimes by saving her lover from the same two villains. She is martyred for that, although Christian symbolism is muted in that scene. The film certainly makes for uncomfortable viewing, but I think it's supposed to be.

This is my first encounter with Walerian Borowczyk. I've read that with this project he set out to make a melodramatic popular film, although the costume drama is spiked by frank scenes of nudity and a focus on the grim realities of life. Eva is destroyed by her hyper-romantic attachment to her first lover, a married man who vanishes (and appears to have forgotten her) for much of the film. Borowczyk's instincts on questions of class, gender and sexuality seem correct on an initial viewing, but then my DVD had a very interesting short clip of an interview with Grazyna Dlugolecka (the leading lady), who talked about the way Borowczyk treated his actors like marionettes and obsessed over the mise-en-scène. The sets are indeed beautiful, and great use is made of props (particularly photos and paintings) as scene-setters. However, the most harrowing sequence in the film is more impressionistic – handheld, lots of cuts and point-of-view shots – showing Eva killing her newborn baby. It was done entirely by the cinematographer Zygmunt Samosiuk, who may deserve quite a bit of credit not only for the look of the film, but for the excellent performances in it.

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