The Movie Waffler Blu-ray Review - <i>Theatre of Mr & Mrs Kabal</i> (1967) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-ray Review - Theatre of Mr & Mrs Kabal (1967)

Borowczyk's animated work packaged in hi-def from Arrow Video.

Directed by: Walerian Borowczyk

Starring: Louisette Rousseau, Pierre Collet (voices only)

Borowczyk's theatre of the absurd is a full length animated feature, but those expecting cute animals and fluffy songs should perhaps look away now. Endlessly inventive, but animated in a basic style, this is perhaps the most difficult of the director's films to love. Not to worry then, because this disc also comes laden with a comprehensive selection of short films and commercials to make it a more than worthy purchase.
Kabal depicts scenes from the titular Mr & Mrs lives; less a prosaic investigation of a hen pecked husband and his harridan of a wife, more an explosion of voyeuristic behaviour (Mr Kabal has a predilection for spying on passive young ladies with his binoculars, an act that is always interrupted by an annoyed and dishevelled old man) and non-sequiturs packaged in moments of surreal farce. As a medium length work it would be fine as a feature. It does unfortunately outstay its welcome. Repetition is part of its humour, but there are only so many bits of business you can do with butterflies and two legged lizard creatures without going stale.
The surreal highlight is a diminutive Mr Kabal travelling through his wife's body, being forced to clean up as he goes. As a metaphor for the drudgery of marital duty, it really can't be beat. The longing, the tedium and the surreal and nightmarish quality could all be an investigation into the insanity of the institution of marriage through the prism of Borowczyk's unique mind. Or it could be an episode of Terry & June seen through the eyes of an alien. Take your pick.
Mr and Mrs Kabal may be a challenging work, but it is the short films that offer the real treasures on this disc. The director saw them as equal value to his feature work, so I won't include them as an afterthought in the extras. The Astronauts is his first work made with Chris Marker (who only put his name on as co-director in order for it to get made). Stylistically, it has the cut and paste animation that Terry Gilliam used to great effect in Monty Python, and already shows an understanding of the use of sound as well as vision in the medium.
The standout works on the disc are Angels Game, which uses a disturbing repetition of train noise and blurred images to coalesce into an abstract investigation of Nazism and the use of concentration camps (It's opaque and disturbing, with an almost sexual fetishisation of pistons and machinery), and Rosalie, a live action short based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, which uses stop motion to depict the evidence used in a crime, and has the titular Rosalie confess to infanticide, the result of being coerced into sex by the nephew of the lord of the manor. For Borowczyk, this is a more restrained offering, using a fixed camera and a direct to camera confession with restrained use of visuals. It is a mature and deeply moving work, which makes a mockery of his later categorisation as a purveyor of nudie cutie pictures.
Some of the work is just fun frippery married to his love of classical music, the lightest of which is Gavotte, a work of slapstick involving dwarves at the Court of Louis XV, and his last work Scherzo Inferno, which brings to the fore his more licentious side and the explicitness of his later work. Visually, a Hentai work produced by Bob Godfrey is the nearest comparison I can make.
Both Renaissance and The Phonograph are beautiful pieces of stop motion that have heavily influenced the look and style of the Brothers Quay. An essential package for cinephilles.
Amazing restoration work aside, you also get a short introduction from Terry Gilliam. A documentary about Borowczyk's animated work with the contributions of producer Dominique Duverge-Segretin and composer Bernard Parmegiani, which is a fascinating insight into his embryonic work. A short visual essay by Daniel Bird, looking at the director's drawings and three commercials -  Holy Smoke, The Museum & Tom Thumb. A worthy set of extras for an exemplary package.