La Rochefoucauld is evoked at the outset (love "pleases more by the manner in which it shows itself than by itself"), but Walerian Borowczyk’s tool in disarming prurient criticism is his sly humor, already evident in the title. Rohmer’s moral tales, Borowczyk’s immoral ones: Fabrice Luchini is plucked from Claire’s Knee for La Marée, the first short in the quartet, pumping air into his bicycle’s tire as his lissome young cousin (Lise Danvers) pops up with her bikini under a diaphanous white dress, ready for the beach. The two are stranded on a rocky isle, he wants her to orally illustrate the "mechanism of the sea" so the blowjob montage is attuned to the cosmic rise of the tide; the girl’s pink mouth is at the center, going from blankly apprehensive to briefly blissful and back when pleasure of her own is denied. Sexuality is blessed in Thérèse Philosophie -- the fin-de-siècle, pubescent heroine (Charlotte Alexandra) hears the Holy Ghost while fondling the church organ’s pipes and, locked in a room, rummages through the bric-a-brac and finds volcanic ecstasy by blending the Gospel and De Sade. By the end, she’s a still-life of exhausted, aroused flesh, locked up yet freed carnally. Going back in time, Erzsébet Bathory contemplates Paloma Picasso as the Blood Countess, a saturnine vulturette on horseback; she rounds up medieval lasses for extended shower scenes in her castle, followed by sanguine frenzies. A pearly study of fluids and skin, with Borowczyk forcing himself to switch from sex to death for the punchline, the great painter’s daughter becoming an object d’art in a vat of thick blood after having disapproved of the girls’ salacious sketches on lavatory walls. Finally, Lucrezia -- the Borgia epoch, ecclesiastical pomp, wicked reflections on Russell and Pasolini. Lucrezia (Florence Bellamy) and her family (Jacobo and Lorenzo Berinizi) romp in the chamber while Savonarola (Philippe Desboeuf) preaches from the pulpit, his burning at the stake mingled with their climax. "Quel sacrilege!" Borowczyk would concur, only to reverse another Le Rochefoucauld maxim: "Our virtues are most frequently but vices in disguise." With Pascale Christophe.
--- Fernando F. Croce