Cérémonie d'amour (1987)


(director/writer: Walerian Borowczyk; screenwriter: from the novel by Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues; cinematographers: Potrice Guillo/Gérard Monceau/Jean-Paul Sergent/Michel Zolat; editors: Florence Poulain/Guila Salama/Lili Sonnet/Marie-Hélène Eirisch; cast: Marina Pierro (Myriam), Mathieu Carrière (Hugo Arnold), Josy Bernard (Mériem Ben Saada), Isabelle Tinard (Nora Nix); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Philippe Quez; Cult Epics; 1987-France-French with English subtitles)
“A startlingly original arthouse horror/romance film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The last film by cult Polish director Walerian Borowczyk (“The Beast”/”Immoral Tales”/”Goto, Island of Love”), who died in 2006, was based on a novel by the French surrealist Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues (1909-1991)–the filmmaker’s friend, whose work was often adapted to the screen by the filmmaker. It’s a puzzling, violent, hypnotic mood piece, set in modern Paris, that questions how making love can be used as a weapon to dominate the other sex partner.

In the Paris metro, hedonistic fashion designer Hugo Arnold (Mathieu Carrière) picks up a beautiful prostitute, Myriam (Marina Pierro), who flirts with him on the subway. After having a strange chat about acting and showing affection on the station bench, at a church and at a park, they go to the apartment of Myriam’s friend, Sara Sand. After sex, Hugo becomes a captive of her sex power games and in a surreal sequence Myriam puts on long metal finger nails and shreds his skin and further subjects him to a tongue lashing that’s embarrassingly emasculating–calling him out for being a cad and being so full of male pride. Freaked out and told by the whore that he’s lucky to be let out alive, Hugo’s possessions are left in the premises upon her insistence and he’s sent to the banks of the Seine where the film reaches a frightfully shocking allegorical climax.

It’s a startlingly original arthouse horror/romance film, that despite its unpleasant brutish cult sex story, not meant for a wide audience, it demands serious study as it mixes softcore sex, nihilism and a disturbing social commentary on the human condition. I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was fascinated by the idiosyncratic artistic imagery, the unpredictability of the story line and how brilliantly Borowczyk framed each scene with the detail of a painter.