France, 1971, 90 minutes. 5:15 p.m. and Midnight Walerian Borowczyk ("Renaissance," "M. and Mme. Kabal") was the finest, most audacious movie cartoonist of the '50s and '60s; in "Blanche"--a grimly beautiful ballad of romance and death in 13th-Century France, of a visiting king whose lechery undoes a palace--precise, brutal, wistful and savage, he proves as brilliant with human actors as with his own drawings (particularly when the actors include Jacques Perrin, Ligia Branice and, at 75, the great Michel Simon). The film has a sardonic mastery: one false step in its ingenious commingling of farce and tragedy, romance and violence, melody and grotesquerie, courtly love and a holocaust of blood and the whole skillful edifice might collapse, a medieval fresco peeling on ruined walls. But the false step never happens: Borowczyk is a genius of the cinema, and this film, disgracefully unseen here since its release, is a bizarre masterpiece. RECOMMENDED

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