From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Starring two of the most iconic cinematic sex symbols of the 1970s, Warhol Factory favourite Joe Dallesandro (Blood for Dracula , Killer Nun) and Emmanuelle herself Sylvia Kristel, Walerian Borowczyk’s ‘The Streetwalker’ is an erotic and melancholy visual poem criminally underappreciated by cult film audiences.
Sigimond (Dallesandro) apparently has every reason to be happy with his lot in life; he has a beautiful loving wife and a charming, if somewhat eccentrically coiffured, young son however on a trip to Paris for business he pursues a series of sexual liaisons with a world-weary prostitute named Diana (Kristel). And that’s about it as far as the plot goes. What superficially appears to be a story about infidelity takes on an increasingly dark emotional tone as the film progresses.
Many reviewers, even those with an intelligent grasp on director Borowczyk’s peculiarly impressionistic style and often cryptic use of symbolism, have insisted on following the films narrative events in a strictly linear fashion and, although I’m not inclined to maintain that there is but one ‘correct’ reading of the story, there is a danger of missing out on some of the film’s poignancy if it is approached in such a straightforward manner.
Clues to the motivation behind Sigimond’s hedonistic odyssey, and the reflexive nature of the narrative, are scattered throughout the film, some visual, some verbal; an antique telescope, a resealed envelope, a promise of fidelity, mirrors and reflections. Borowczyk is a confident enough visual storyteller to employ provocative symbolism which the viewer can respond to interpretively rather than an explicit explanation of motives and meaning which the audience accepts as the simple truth.
‘The Streetwalker’ is an unfairly ignored entry in the Polish director’s filmography overshadowed by more notorious titles such as The Beast and Behind Convent Walls. In their indispensable book on European sex and horror cinema ‘Immoral Tales’ (itself named after another of Borowczyk’s movies) Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill describe ‘The Streetwalker’ as ‘probably Borowczyk’s weakest film’ which I think is grossly unjustified. Admittedly ‘The Streetwalker’ is one of the directors relatively less eccentric, more accessible efforts but this is no bad thing when telling a story with such a strong emotional core and visually it is as richly detailed as any other of his films.
Borowczyk’s erotic fixation with ordinary objects is abundant here; see for example Sigimond’s wife plucking petals and seeds from her pubic hair or the introduction of boiled eggs to one sex scene. Another of the director’s signature motifs is the act of peeking and here we witness an invalid housemaid who tends the bedrooms in a brothel spying on Sigimond and Diana as they make love.
Although somewhat less garish, Borowczyk’s depiction of Paris nightlife as a squalid purgatory for the unfulfilled is akin to Fellini’s hellish vision of Rome in ‘Toby Dammit’, the Italian director’s contribution to the multi-story Edgar Allen Poe adaptation ‘Spirits of the Dead’. The grotesque and eccentric supporting characters; the pistol practising pimp, the peeping housekeeper, the midget whose hat is constantly being blown off by the wind all serve to make the awkward tenderness between Sigimond and Diana appear that much sweeter and ultimately more tragic.
The film is slow-paced and oblique enough to alienate many and those looking for nothing more than softcore smut will, despite the abundant nudity, screwing and boiled eggs, find themselves no doubt turned off by the downbeat depiction of the practicalities of prostitution and the increasingly gloomy forecast for anything approximating a happy ending.
Sigimond & Diana’s relationship is entirely physical but the way in which their bodies communicate is loaded with inferred desires and dreams. Borowczyk cleverly employs contemporary pop songs on the soundtrack, including tracks by Pink Floyd, 10cc and Elton John, to enhance the emotional impact of key scenes and articulate much of what is left unsaid by the absence of dialogue between the two characters.
As well as both being hauntingly handsome Dallesandro and Kristel turn in performances of great subtlety and conviction while Borowczyk’s camera democratically focuses an equal amount of screen-time on the naked bodies of each. Kristel in particular is perfectly in sync with the tone of the film. Her character appears sensual but tired, rehearsed in her professional behaviour yet slowly revealing subtle hints that she is awakening to the touch of a man whose own desperate, damaged need to feel has set something alight in her. And this feeling is something she fears.
Highly recommended to those whose cinematic tastes embrace both the Arthouse and the Grindhouse, and a must see for fans of either Dallesandro or Kristel, ‘The Streetwalker’ encourages and rewards repeat viewings.
Far from being ‘Borowczyk’s weakest film’ in my opinion it is one of the directors most emotive and intriguing movies.
Narcan is the GCDb's esteemed UK contributor. As a youth his earliest exploitation film experience was a My Bloody Valentine/The Funhouse midnight double bill. Grindhouse icons that he holds in highest regards are Christina Lindberg and Frank Henelotter. Two of his favorite exploitation genres include Nunsploitation and Lucha Libre.