WARNING: The following review contains nakedness!
Along with infamous work-for-hire atrocity ‘Zombie Lake’, 1974’s ‘Tout le Monde il en a Deux’, aka ‘Fly me the French Way’, aka ‘Bacchanales Sexuelles’ – never gifted with a remotely decent title or poster in any language - must be the least celebrated, most disreputable Jean Rollin production legitimately available on DVD (we have Synapse Films to thank for that pleasure).
The second ‘Michel Gentil’ sexploitation film directed by Rollin for producer Lionel Wallmann, ‘Tout le Monde..’ follows on from the strangely delightful ‘Jeunes Filles Impudiques’, and in many ways functions as a sequel to that film, with a bigger budget (relatively speaking), more characters, more locations, more zaniness, more sex, a more developed storyline (again, relatively speaking) and a far longer running time. That the results are more ‘Ghostbusters II’ than ‘Mad Max II’ is a bit of a shame, but… I’m getting ahead of myself.
Things get off to a good start, as the indefatigable Joëlle Coeur and her friend Michelle (Marie-France Morel) arrive at the groovy Paris apartment where they’re going to be spending some time house-sitting for Joëlle’s cousin, a journalist who’s off covering a big story. With framed Phillipe Druillet prints on the wall, gothic knick-knacks over the mantlepiece and shelves full of weird and rare French literature, it sure looks a lot like Jean Rollin’s apartment, but hey, who’s complaining? Certainly not the two girls, who waste no time in getting the party started.
Who could this elusive Michel Gentil possibly be..? Why, the mystery must have confounded the French film industry for years…
“Do you have anything to drink?”, asks Michelle, prompting Joëlle to head for the kitchen, returning with vodka and vermouth that they proceed to swig straight from the bottles. To complete the mood, Michelle heads to the record player and drops the needle on Art Ensemble of Chicago’s ‘Home’ LP!
My kinda Saturday night!
Those with a vague idea what kind of film they’re watching won’t exactly be surprised by the way Joëlle and Michelle’s quiet night in progresses, and here, sadly, is our first hint that a viewing of this movie isn’t going to be quite as fun-packed an experience as might be wished. Whereas the sex scenes in ‘Jeunes Filles..’ were so coy and gentle they were actually kinda charming, ‘Tout le Monde..’ seems to go for a different approach entirely, leading us straight into the darkest chambers of grotesque softcore groping.
Ever since spending a bored evening or two flicking through dire TV movie soft porn in my misspent youth, I’ve been consistently amazed at the ease with which a bad director can turn the sight of two attractive ladies pleasuring each other into a thoroughly repulsive spectacle, and whilst I don’t think Jean Rollin is a bad director, that is the impression his alter-ego M. Gentil seems determined to create here, as Coeur and Morel set to on the carpet, pretend-grinding their way through a variety of laughably unnatural positions with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
(Sorry, I’m not giving you any screengrabs of that – gotta draw the line somewhere for chrissake.)
Anyway, things take a more curious turn after the girls finally call it a night and head to bed, as the apartment is infiltrated by two Fantomas-esque masked female cat-burglars (later revealed as none other than Catherine and Marie Castel), who wrap Michelle up in a carpet and kidnap her, all as Joëlle snoozes on oblivious! Good grief.
So begins the gradual unravelling of a convoluted yet excruciatingly simple-minded storyline concerning the villainous schemes of one Malvina (Brigitte Borghese), a decadent aristocrat who runs some sort of underground sex cult, using blackmail to coerce wouldbe libertines into becoming her unquestioning slaves. Or something.
With her theatrical manner and seemingly inexhaustable wardrobe of ludicrous outfits, Malvina - who looks a bit like a ‘60s Nico gone to seed - is clearly the most potentially interesting character in this movie. In one of the few scenes to evoke the delirious spirit of Rollin’s better work, we see her out on the front lawn, clad in some kind of bizarro black bodystocking based funeral attire, blasting away with a handgun at a collection of department store mannequins.
Eager weirdo-movie fans will doubtless be crying out for more of this sorta thing, but sadly it’s not to be. Back at the shack, Joëlle has hooked up with Michelle’s ‘friend’ Mark, a randy devil of a tousle-haired hippie whose chief interest in life seems to be forcing himself upon any woman within grabbing distance as often as is humanly possible. I’ll admit, I found it pretty hilarious in ‘Jeunes Filles..’ when the characters decide to find time for a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast before setting out to rescue their friend from the clutches of criminals hiding out in the garden shed, but here Joëlle and Mark’s complete disinterest in their kidnapped friend becomes both callous and excruciatingly boring, as we’re forced to endure them hanging around the flat fornicating every which way for what seems like hours, their simulated hetero sex so achingly drab it makes the earlier lesbian scene look like a masterpiece of eroticism by comparison.
That said, another potential highlight - for sleaze/trash fiends at least, although frankly who else would bother watching this in this day and age? – emerges after Malvina’s cult sends a counterfeit maid (sans panties) to ‘spy’ on Joëlle and Mark. Unsurprisingly, this ‘spying’ seems to consist primarily of instigating an interminable threesome, but sparks really start to fly when a genuine maid turns up. Joëlle moves to intervene in the ensuing melee, but no says Mark, looking on with a smirk - “let the best woman win”.
Fly me the French way indeed!
I realise I’m probably making this sound like a pretty fun movie thus far, but seriously, I’m all out of stuff worth talking about now. That’s yer lot. Barrel’s empty.
What is so frustrating about ‘Tout le Monde il en a Deux’ isn’t so much that Jean Rollin should make a bad movie – after all, received wisdom suggests that all of his subsequent sex films are pretty anonymous, dispiriting affairs. Rather it is the fact that ‘Tour le Monde..’ is so packed with HIS FAVOURITE STUFF, and yet the directorial engagement necessary to make something worthwhile out of it all is so shockingly absent.
Feuillade style cat burglars dancing across the roofs of Paris? Occult sex rituals, masked libertines and fighting French maids? Joëlle Coeur and the Castel twins all running around ready to bare all? A whole stately home to run riot in, and production circumstances that presumably allowed a certain degree of financial and creative freedom? By rights this movie should have been the most joyous explosion of Rollinesque pulp delirium on record… but like a grumpy kid on Christmas day crying in the corner whilst his shiny new toys lie untouched, the director’s heart clearly just wasn’t in it.
Admittedly, the film also suffers from a few additional drawbacks compared to its predecessor. Unless he was working under a pseudonym (I suspect not), Jean-Jacques Renon’s reliably lively photography is notable by its absence, and the cold, drained colour palette that takes its place seems a weird and unwise choice for a sex film.
Also lacking is a proper soundtrack, or even decent sound editing. Proceedings could have been livened up no end by letting a regular Rollin collaborator like Pierre Raph or Philippe d'Aram have a bash at the score, but instead audio accompaniment (Art Ensemble aside) is confined to a handful of horrifically insipid library cues that splutter into life seemingly at random between long, awkward silences. Total mood-killer.
That the storyline (credited to Rollin and regular collaborator Natalie Perrey) is nonsensical and the acting atrocious is practically a given for a film like this, but in this case there is little charm for the flimsy scenarios to fall back on, and the dialogue in particular is forehead-slappingly dire – so many opportunities for outrageous pronouncements or ribald witticisms missed as characters instead just blunderingly state the obvious, staring straight to camera, looking bored out of their skulls.
For all this though, the lion’s share of the blame still has to fall on Rollin’s direction. Somewhat lugubrious at the best of times (oh, those long walks), his preferred style of filmmaking is never really one which is liable to liven up dreary, impersonal subject matter, but even so I have rarely seen a film directed with such a palpable sense of despondency as this one; there ya go, I’ve set up the camera, I’m off for a smoke… should we move it now? Oh, might as well give it another few minutes, who fucking cares anyway. Quick zoom into the bare wall before we cut, and… sorted! Next scene! That seems to be the general approach here, and it’s difficult not to picture Rollin yawning between takes, reading the paper as his ‘performers’ grudgingly go through the motions.
Occasionally things seem to grab his attention – framing and lighting in the aforementioned mannequin scene is notably more imaginative than most of the rest of the film, and there are a handful of great, weird shots in the closing ritual/orgy – but for the most part this is soft-porn filmmaking by numbers, and pretty sorry looking numbers they are too – an inexplicable failure, given the potential zaniness of many of the events actually being enacted on screen.
So that’s that really: you’ve got the mannequin shooting stuff, the Castel cat-burglers and the maid fight to tick off your list of ‘stuff I’ve seen’, and Joelle Coëur’s mischievous grin could add an erotic frisson to a documentary about alzheimers sufferers (to say nothing for the rest of her), but beyond that I’m afraid I find little here to recommend to even the hardiest Jean Rollin completist. C’est la vie.