His work is an extreme proof of the hypothesis that film suffers to the extent that it is realistic, and flourishes in accordance with its capacity for fantasy, poetry, and the surreal. What distinguishes it is the succession of images (motion) that prompts emotion. It is of secondary importance, which is to say, none at all, whether these images are records of reality or records of invention. The camera cannot lie, but such literalness makes it dull and helpless unless liberated by an artist. Borowczvk was one of the major artists of cinema, arguably the finest talent that East Europe has provided.
He was the poet of destructive passions who never tolerates the glib pathos of extinction. The objects and people who suffer in his films are broken down and remade into new versions of themselves, sometimes identical, sometimes unrecognizable. This is innately cinematic: the explosion that kills produces gorgeous smoke and a rearrangement of limbs; execution is as Dada as any nude descending a staircase; wounds allow blood to escape; hair consumes plaster heads; and in Rosalie, the very items of evidence that involved us with the beautiful Ligia Branice are finally smoothed away to demonstrate the means of our emotion.
Rosalie is a study of suffering on its first level; but beneath that, and more important, it is an elegy on our way of responding to suffering. Equally, Goto, a barbarous, lyrical fairy story, reduces the world to love and cruelty in the way of L’Age d’Or and, like Bunuel’s film, ends with a touch—the heroine brought back to life—that is a commentary on our watching selves as critical and tender as the last tracking shot of Lola Montes.
Borowczyk has always mingled forms, “animating" real objects and still photographs as much as drawings, so that it was no surprise when he entered into full-length live action with Goto and Blanche. His partnership with Lenica was close, while that with Marker seems to have been the swapping of very different personalities.
Borowczyk’s feeling for suffering, and for the mysterious affirmation of reality in pain, destruction, and regeneration, places him with the great poets. Less a Pole perhaps—so much graver than Wajda—than a refugee with Buñuel.