The madness of Goto, l'île d'amour is not for everyone. Borowczyk's film is an insane dream-like look into a shattered and dysfunctional world, which if I was to guess, is probably how he sees our own one. So in that sense I suspect that the film is thematically, at least, allegorical.
The Kingdom of Goto we might suspect, given that all the characters use only one letter of the alphabet to start their name, is 1/26th of what it was in its former glory and totally cut off from the outside world. What cataclysm was involved in the sinking of the rest of the archipelago (the original trailer to the movie informs us that it was such) is left untouched upon. What remains is a world where the people have existed for a century for the King's good pleasure (although Goto's educationalist is at pains to give us his correct constitutional position, which is that he has become King by informal acclamation). It is clear that Goto III views all his subjects as dogs, especially in the way that he strokes the back of Grozo's head when he pleads for clemency. Furthermore the only form of entertainment appears to be forcing convicts to fight and executions.
A good way to look at the movie, as another reviewer has suggested is through the lens of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. Grozo is a Steerpike-like social climber intent on being with the king's wife Glyssia (played by Ligia Branice who plays Blanche in the Borowcyzk's movie of the same name, and who was also Borowcyzk's wife). His rise is the narrative backbone of the film.
The flavour of this movie is not love but lust. Grozo becomes the official boot-polisher and keeper of the queen's clothes, and it is clear that he derives much sexual satisfaction from this position. One clear example of the film's preoccupation with this is a split-second shot of Glyssia's wonderful feet in sensual red boots. There is also a sense that Grozo is an Oedipus (as another commenter has alluded to) in the way in which he buries his head in the lap of Glyssia awaiting clemency, a shot of which recurs throughout the film in flashback.
The surreal sex and death theme is kept up with a wondrously gaudy colour close-up shot of a bucket filled with bloodied water, just used to clean up after an execution. There is also the symbology of flies, which was very important to Bataille and other Surrealists.
There are two versions of this movie, one without any colour scenes, which I saw several years ago. And one with several very short bursts of colour of lunatic clarity on the Cult Epics DVD that I watched more recently. It is essential to watch the latter.
I love Borowczyk's shooting style, the screen is always parallel to the background wall, and the shots if not static pan very little. A fellow enthusiast has suggested that this makes the viewer feel like a voyeuristic interloper. For myself I am a fan of such formalism. There is a magnificent colour sequence at the end, of Glossia's bedroom, where, in a coup de maǐtre, the director totally abandons his shooting rubric and the camera rolls around Glossia's bedroom like the eye of a madman. It's an exquisite and jarring change. We are made to feel the glee of the fetishist who's eye caresses a room which is strewn with pastel-coloured silks and other feminine apparel.
The use of music in Borowczyk's films must be noted, the soundtrack to Blanche is one of the great soundtracks and Goto is accompanied by an impeccable Handel organ score which blasts out (as organ music should) during silences.
It would be interesting to know what a feminist film historian might think of this movie. The only women we ever see are whores, or with Glyssia an ineffectual sex object.
So if absurdity, fetish, surrealism, and organ music are right up your street, look no further. The only slight problem I had with the movie is the editing, I felt that at times the movie did not flow smoothly enough, but perhaps the effect was intentional.
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