Your chances of enjoying Immoral Tales, an alternately amusing and unpleasant omnibus porn-comedy, increase exponentially if you treat the film like a series of softcore shaggy-dog jokes. All four of its horny heroines are mockingly led on, and consequently punished, by members of pseudo-civilizing institutions, including family members, clergymen, and even a patron of the arts. Thankfully, Polish writer/director/agitprop-pornographer Walerian Borowczyk’s cruel attempts at social commentary are mollified significantly by his probing fascination with the female body.
“Thérèse Philosophe,” the sexiest and funniest of the four segments, unfortunately climaxes when Charlotte Alexandra’s title character is raped after she masturbates furiously with a cucumber while reading about the Stations of the Cross. But before he needlessly punishes Thérèse, Borowczyk presents Alexandra’s exposed body parts as if he were interrogating her breasts and hips and more through confrontational, unfocused extreme close-ups. Borowczyk always highlights some rousingly indecent gesture — sometimes it’s a telling quirk of the thigh, or a twitch of the wrist — though he doesn’t always seem to know where to find it. To that end, he searches.
Even the film’s sleepy introductory sketch, in which a teenage naif (Lise Danvers) is tricked into giving oral pleasure to her bloviating cousin (Fabrice Luchini), is significantly improved by a couple of leering close-ups of Danvers’s open mouth. Watching Luchini brush Danvers’s lips with his forefinger is exciting because it’s filmed like an aggressive, but spontaneous, expression of lust.
Immoral Tales works best when its creator is focused on surprising viewers with his perverse imagination, and not his misguided cynicism.