The story is that while Jean Rollin was filming Requiem for a Vampire (1972), production manager Lionel Wallman encouraged him to include some scenes of a graphic sexual nature to make the film more commercial (Rollin relented, and filmed the distracting and repellent dungeon sequences). Wallman then suggested that if the director were to make a film entirely about sex – you know, without that artsy and vampire-themed surrealism that typified his work – they’d have a windfall. Again, Rollin agreed, and that experiment became Jeunes filles impudiques (“The Impudent Young Girls”), aka Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973). The erotic has always been an essential element of his films, but Jeunes filles impudiques marked a turn toward the then-popular genre of the sex film, a slippery slope into hardcore pornography that Rollin eventually tumbled down, ostensibly to help finance more personal films. He’d lose much of the 70’s to these endeavors. It was like a surrender; audiences didn’t come to a movie called The Nude Vampire (1970) for its playful references to the fantastique cinema and serials of France’s past. His most personal experiment, The Iron Rose (1973), flopped. So why not just give them what they want?
His full name was Jean Michel Rollin Roth Le Gentil. For the work of which he was proud, he signed “Jean Rollin.” The Wallman-produced Jeunes filles impudiques was the first film to go out under the name “Michel Gentil” (there would be many more; for some of his later hardcore films he chose the pseudonym Robert Xavier). But though he never intended the film to be High Art, there’s a harmless, playful quality to the film; it doesn’t feel sleazy in the least, certainly not like the dungeon scenes in Requiem for a Vampire: the one incongruous moment of chained-up torture has a deliberately ludicrous feel, as though Rollin wants you to know he finds it just as silly as you do. The story bears a vague relation to the Judex-style plots of his previous work. Two girls are backpacking through the woods. One is Gilda Arancio, blonde, in an orange sweater and plaid schoolgirl’s skirt. The other is Joëlle Coeur, brunette, in a red jacket, bluejeans, and a purple shirt. They discover a two-story villa in the forest, and, finding it deserted, immediately climb into bed and start making love – naturally. (Incidentally, the version I viewed, from the Grindhouse Experience set, was cut, and the tame sex scenes never linger for more than a few minutes. Nevertheless, it’s evident that Rollin is more interested in beautiful nudes than the businesslike act of sex. I can’t speak to the nature of the uncut version, though a DVD is available.) Soon arrives a gunman (Willy Braque, later of Rollin’s Demoniacs), who takes shelter downstairs. Coeur, having a late-night cigarette outside, encounters the gunman and immediately seduces him (Arancio quickly joins them). After the two young pleasure-seekers depart happily the next morning, the gunman discovers that the stolen jewels he was stashing in the house have disappeared. His boss, a stern-looking villainess (Marie Hélène Règne), sends him out to chloroform and kidnap the girls, then torture them into revealing the whereabouts of the stolen jewels. Coeur escapes into town, where she finds a private detective and his pigtailed secretary (who packs her own heat, as we learn in the climax). After some chases and interrogations, the real culprit turns out to be none other than Jean Rollin, when he shows up at the villa and tries to clumsily seduce Coeur using the stolen gems. Eventually the crooks are arrested by the detective and his secretary, and Coeur and Arancio share a lusty kiss.
As a sex film, Jeunes filles impudiques must be considered a failure. It has the feel of some friends playing dress-up and shooting a home movie for laughs – which is precisely its charm. It’s a direct digression from Requiem for a Vampire – the same plot, but without the vampires or gore, and more of the sauciness. On the other hand, it’s an authentic glimpse into grindhouse cinema of the early 70’s, when the notion of sexploitation still held a giddy appeal to moviegoers of the pre-internet age. The problematic print on the Grindhouse Experience set is appropriately faded and beaten-to-hell, with the atrocious English-language dubbing you’d expect to encounter back in an American theater in 1973; sample dialogue: “It’s time for you to know that Jackie and I have a very intimate relationship. We like each other very much, and we act unblushingly when we’re together.” Try to casually drop the word “unblushingly” into a sentence today and see how it goes. Frequent Rollin collaborator Pierre Raph provides a fun soundtrack, with a surprisingly lovely main theme; a couple of years ago Finders Keepers Records issued a 7″ vinyl Jeunes filles impudiques EP, which is really as much as you need of the score.
Tout le monde il en a deux (1974) was released in English-speaking territories with the title card Fly Me the French Way, as though the film were about French stewardesses. It’s not. (Synapse’s DVD uses the more appropriate title Bacchanales Sexuelles.) The original title roughly translates as “Everyone has two of them,” which is spoken defensively by a character in the film when he’s caught in the nude with the Castel twins (Catherine and Marie-Pierre, from The Nude Vampire). This one, unlike Jeunes filles impudiques, belongs completely to the realm of softcore pornography. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Rollin put his heart into this one, clearly he did spend a bit more time and effort, since it’s a more polished film, with a larger cast, a slightly more elaborate plot, and some genuinely funny comedy. Consider this the softcore parody of a Jean Rollin film, directed by one Monsieur Gentil. Rollin’s muse-of-the-moment, the lovely Joëlle Coeur, returns as young Valerie, apartment-sitting for her absent cousin. One might assume that her cousin was filmmaker Jean Rollin, since red candles adorn the voluminous bookshelves, and posters for Rape of the Vampire, The Nude Vampire, and Shiver of the Vampires decorate the walls. Lonely, she summons her friend and lover Sophie (the redheaded Marie-France Morel), and lovemaking ensues to the avant-garde jazz of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which Valerie spins on the record player. That night, intruders dressed in white and black bodysuits and masks break into the apartment and kidnap Sophie. She’s delivered to a mansion, where she meets Malvina (Brigitte Borghese, billed as Britt Anders), a high priestess and sorceress who keeps a dungeon available in the cellar for circumstances just like these. Malvina is trying to expose a traitor in her cult, one who has been publishing exposés of her hedonistic activities. All she knows is that the traitor is a cousin of Valerie’s. Mistaking Sophie for Valerie, she has her taken to the dungeon to be tortured, while her aroused assistants, “Karl and Frida,” have unattractive and interminable sex nearby. Note to anyone venturing into this purely as a Rollin fan: there’s a lot of this kind of padding.
Meanwhile, a young man named Fred (Alain Bastin) arrives at the apartment looking for Sophie, and begins making love to Valerie instead – by accident, or so he claims. The next morning, both crawl out of bed and finally start to wonder where Sophie’s run off to. They make love again. Then he discovers negatives – dirty pictures – hidden in a small jar. Soon enough Malvina dispatches a blond maid to search the apartment for those very negatives; when she encounters Fred and Valerie, a three-way ensues. When the real maid shows up, she’s outraged that someone would try to steal her job: they tumble together onto the floor, tearing at each other’s clothes. Valerie makes a move to break up the fight, but Fred immediately stops her – a minor bit of business which I found to be one of the film’s highlights. Although I would have loved for Fred and Valerie to have gone and hired the detective and his assistant from Jeunes filles impudiques, instead they decide to raid Malvina’s mansion alone. Outnumbered by the Eyes Wide Shut-style hedonists, their only means to escape with Sophie is to enlist the help of Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel, essentially playing the same roles they always do in Rollin’s films. At last, Malvina is undone, and Valerie’s reporter cousin is revealed to be none other than Malvina’s toady assistant, Paul (Jean-Paul Hazy), who pulls a gun on his mistress and demands that he be the dominant one in the evening’s S&M activities, for a change.
It’s never exactly clear what “sorcery” is involved in Malvina’s secret society. When a “victim” (Annie Belle, later of Lips of Blood) is placed upon the altar during the climactic ceremony, all that ensues is more sex. If it weren’t for the fact that Malvina has Sophie kidnapped and chained up in the cellar, there really wouldn’t be any criminal activity involved at all. Still, this only adds to the parodic overtones of the film. Rollin fans will enjoy the references to his own work, as well as recognizing faces from his repertory company. It is, in the end, nothing more than silly softcore porn, with Rollin’s eye for the female form serving him in both loving and leering ways. It drags, but if viewed in pieces (i.e., fast-forward when the sex scenes start to bore you) it can be pretty amusing. And anyway, nothing can be too terrible with Joëlle Coeur as the star. She wasn’t a spectacular actress, but that wasn’t on the list of requirements.
Next week in our ongoing Rollinathon – something that isn’t porn! Stay tuned.