Review for Goto, Isle of Love
‘Goto, l'île d'amour’ is Walerian Borowczyk's first live-action feature, released in 1969, a time where such bold experimentation in European cinema was embraced to the full.
Up until the time he made this he had built a reputation as an inventive, abstract animator who not only animated line-drawings and illustrations, but who nudged the edges of live-filmmaking by using photo montage and stop frame with real objects. As a result his film-making style tends to be with a very static camera, usually just a wide –shot, straight on like a theatre’s proscenium arch within which he would present his wares.
Additionally there are very few shadows in his work, something any stop-frame animator would be keen to avoid, so that the end result has a strangely unique quality, perfectly in keeping with the restrained nature of his dystopian vision.
Whilst not as completely surreal as many of his shorts (and the feature length animation, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Kabal’s Theatre’) there is something off-key about this dystopian satire – all filmed in gratifyingly flat black and white, with a heavy emphasis on grey.
So what’s it about?
Goto is a little independent island that has been completely cut off from the rest of Europe through flooding. It has had a series of leaders (all called Goto) who have successfully kept the island away from the potential corruption of other lands and they have total authority over every man, woman and child on the island.
It’s a dull, colourless place with little entertainment (just two very miserable workmanlike musicians). Even love making is fairly functional with Goto III maintaining a Royal House of Prostituition where, a bit like the doctors, you take a number, sit down and wait your turn. Very romantic.
Frighteningly like Taliban controlled Kabul in the early noughties, the only real entertainment is the punishment of so-called criminals. When one survives a blood-sport game which results in his forced opponent’s death, he is given the job of polishing royal boots and setting fly-traps. All in all a very rich existence – ridiculous is it weren’t so close to the miserable truth in many places in the world today.
Goto's wife Glyssia (Ligia Branice) proclaims to be in love with him but actually she’s at it with the Captain of the Guard, Gono (Jean-Pierre Andréani).
In the meantime, the ex-criminal Grozo decides to bump off the senior flycatcher to improve his own standing and he harbours desires for Goto’s wife, Glyssia, too.
None of the characters are particularly endearing. Goto III himself (Pierre Brasseur of Eyes Without a Face) is a pompous and privileged man who fails to see what is going on right in front of him. Grozo is an unreliable and selfish schemer. And Glyssia ends up suffering the most of all – perhaps as she is the only one with any zest for life.
There is little here to shock (this is no ‘Immoral Tales’ or ‘The Beast’) although there is a famous and much played sequence of naked maidens bathing which to a large degree has come to define the film.
Apparently Borowczyk made many of the elaborate props himself including the remarkable lenticular portrait of all three Gotos that hangs in the classroom. Goto 1 can be seen by anyone viewing from the left; Goto II by the centre and Goto III by those on the right. Damned clever stuff on a budget!
The image quality is excellent with little sign of wear and tear and a wonderful clarity to even the dullest shots.
In common with other Borowczyk releases from Arrow, the dual format set comes with some tasty extras.
There’s an informative (if a bit hesitant) introduction to the film by artist and Turner Prize nominee Craigie Horsfield which is interesting – if a bit slow.
A featurette, entitled ‘The Concentration Universe: Goto, Isle of Love’ features new interviews with actor Jean-Pierre Andréani (who complains that Boro insisted he cut off most his hair for the role); cameraman Noël Véry and camera assistant Jean-Pierre Platel – all of whom have much to say about Borowczyk and his unusual working methods.
There’s a nice short featurette entitled ‘The Profligate Door’ which is another new documentary about Borowczyk’s sound sculptures featuring curator Maurice Corbet. Again we learn that Borowczyk himself hand made a wide variety of these to create folwy like effects for his films, some to great effect.
Things are rounded off with an original theatrical trailer.
Fans of Borowczyk will definitely want to add ‘Goto’ to their collection as a good example if his moce from animation to film. It’s an enjoyable if slightly bleak film that is not without (dark) humour. As it comes with a host of engaging extras it’s an edition that is well worth picking up and heartily recommended.