Thursday 3 February 2011

Jeunes Filles Impudiques/
Schoolgirl Hitchhikers

The genesis of “Jeunes Filles Impudiques”, aka “Schoolgirl Hitchhikers”, and of Jean Rollin’s subsequent parallel career as a reluctant director of sex films, can be traced back to discussions that took place during the production of 1971’s “Requiem for a Vampire”, as succinctly recounted in Jeremy Richey’s review of the film:

“Rollin recalled to Peter Blumenstock in Virgins and Vampires and Video Watchdog that producer, "Lionel (Wallmann) obliged me to put some sex scenes in Requiem-during the dungeon sequence. I told him that I wasn't too fond of that kind of thing, and he answered, "But you do that kind of thing very well. If we made an entire film like that, I bet it would be successful. You may not like it, but you know how to do it." Rollin continued with, 'Okay, I'll do it, but I won't invest any of my own money into it.' Well he raised the money, we made the film and he was right." Hence, the first Michel Gentil film was born and shooting commenced right after Requiem wrapped.”

It seems odd to me that Wallmann was apparently impressed by the sex scenes in “Requiem..”, because watching that film today, Rollin’s unhappiness with this material seems clear. Whilst the eroticism of his first three vampire films arose naturally from their surrealistic, counter-culture milieu, the more minimal, haunted tone of “Requiem..” is quite different. My theory is that what Rollin really wanted to explore was the more innocent take on vampirism that he would later return to in 1997’s “Les Deux Orphelines Vampires” and his accompanying series of stories. But, as confirmed by the quote above, he found himself already pigeonholed as ‘the sexy vampire guy’, and erotic content was part of the deal. As such, “Requiem..”s main ‘sexy scenes’ (Marie Castel’s coupling with that dude on the clifftop outside the castle, and the scene with her tied up in the dungeon) play out like pretty routine and half-hearted sequences in what is otherwise an inspired piece of work.

It is an irony typical of Rollin’s troubled career that this diminishing interest in sexual content ended up inadvertently sparking a career in pseudonymous pornography. But however much fans might see his Gentil/Xavier films as an undignified blot on the director’s copybook, and however sad the oft-repeated stories of Rollin setting up shots then fleeing the room in embarrassment for the more hardcore films he was pushed into making may sound, it’s hard to deny that his opening gambit in the genre is an unexpected delight.

Plotted with all the depth and complexity you’d expect of such a production, “Jeunes Filles Impudiques” stars Joelle Couer, who went on to give an extraordinary performance in Rollin’s “Les Demoniaques”, and Gilda Arancio, who didn’t, as our titular hitchhikers and/or impudent filles. Sneaking into a remote house they assume to be abandoned and spending the night (in the same bed, natch), the girls encounter sad-eyed, moustachioed Rollin regular Willy Braque, an incompetent jewel thief who leads them into a series of tangles with mildly sadistic villainess Marie Helene Regne, incorporating copious nudity, tasteful humping, a great deal of light-hearted running around and poorly staged gunfights, the introduction of the world’s laziest hipster private eye and his unconventionally attired secretary, a thoroughly goofy happy ending, and even a cameo from M. Rollin himself!

The film’s sexual content is fairly mild and, appropriate to the director’s pseudonym, refreshingly gentle in its approach, meaning that, with the exception of a rather jarring torture scene, there is little here to offend anyone.. unless you’re offended by the very idea of sex being portrayed on screen.

(Or unless you object on principle to the inherently patriarchal values expressed through heterosexual male-aimed sex films I suppose… in which case, well, sure - I get where you’re coming from, but I like to try to view these things from within the cultural contexts they emerged from etc etc, and as such “Jeunes Filles Impudiques” is about the most good-natured ‘70s sexploitation films you could hope to find, made by a director whose work I enjoy, and featuring less objectionable content than any one of hundreds of more ‘respectable’, mainstream movies I could name, so I’m gonna watch it and review it and feel no shame – ok, thanks, bye.)

In lieu of sleaze, scripting, or any discernable point, the filmmakers thankfully do their best to cram this movie with a wealth of other aesthetic virtues, the nature of which I shall attempt to elucidate below.

First off, if you happen to be a fan of late ‘60s/early ‘70s fabrics and interior décor, let me just say that this film is the shit. Honestly, no lie – some of the floral pattern dresses the actresses wear here are so lovely that I was quite sad when they inevitably took them off, and even the sheets on the beds are plenty groovy. And maybe this is just me, but I also thought the house in which most of the film takes place was just too cool. Far from ‘abandoned’, it looks pretty much like the house I’d like to live in in an ideal world - walled off on its own in the middle of the woods with big, slightly dilapidated old rooms, furnished with a winning combo of baroque cast-offs, homemade hippy/bohemian touches and pleasantly weird art choices. I loved the dusty entrance hall with what look like Phillipe Druillet prints blu-tacked up the staircase, the dark wood and blue tiling in the hallways, and the psychedelic wallpaper in the master bedroom just plain blew my mind!


I’m thinking maybe this house actually belonged to someone in Rollin’s circle – it looks pretty genuine and lived in, more-so than the overtly kitsch interiors you tend to see in more generously budgeted ‘70s Eurocult films, and I’d love to get some further info about it. In fact, forget the shagging and the gunfights, I could have happily watched people just wander around this environment silently for 70 minutes.

Making “Jeunes Filles..” even more visually appealing, Rollin and his regular cinematographer Jean-Jacques Renon seem to have had a lot of fun putting the film together, indulging themselves with bright colours, interesting visual textures and some distinctive and memorable images. The back-lit stained glass in the windows of what the baddies refer to as the ‘Chinese house’ is a particularly striking touch, reminiscent of the exaggerated lighting effects used in “Le Frisson de Vampire”, imbuing what is otherwise a pretty plain (by ‘70s Euro-sleaze standards) production with a welcome dose of otherworldly wooziness, leading up to an actually-quite-brilliant shot that sees Regne’s character slowly emerging from the pitch-black woods clad in bright purple, as the red and yellow of the ‘Chinese house’ pulses like a UFO to her left.

It doesn’t get much more ‘Rollin-esque’ than that, and indeed, despite the director’s decision not to put his name on the film, nobody else could have made “Jeunes Filles Impudiques”. From the opening shot of the two girls strolling hand in hand through the forest, to the familiar pattern of dreamy, aimless wandering, the brilliant use of found locations, the expressionistic, silent-era style performances and almost fairy tale-like naivety – Jean is dans le maison, if you will.

Pierre Raph’s original music for the film is real highlight too – Finders Keepers put out a lovely 7” EP of it last year that I did a review of on my other blog, but I’ll repeat myself to the extent of saying that I very much enjoyed the opening/closing theme, featuring low register brass, flute and jaunty jazz percussion that puts one in mind of the most uncharacteristically upbeat spaghetti western ever made, and the cavalcades of prog rock drumming that accompany the ‘action’ scenes are great too. In fact all of Raph’s various licks here are near absurdly catchy, reflecting the inexplicable feel-good atmosphere of the film perfectly.

Another thing I really liked was the introduction of the aforementioned private eye – a sublimey goofball character who had me cracking up on several occasions. After escaping from the baddies, Coeur somehow finds her way to the nearest town (perhaps she HITCHHIKED?), where instead of alerting the police, she runs straight to this dude, who is chilling with his feet up of an afternoon, enjoying his artfully scruffy demeanour and the silent presence of his ‘secretary’;

Good work Joelle!

Later in the movie, after Joelle has been captured again and whisked off to be tortured and possibly killed by the baddies, scruffy-detective-guy proves himself the most lovably lazy crime-buster in film history, insisting that the best course of action is to enjoy a good night’s sleep and a leisurely breakfast, and hope that perhaps the villains might return at some point. Watch in delight as he gracefully slurps from one of those big bowls of chocolate the French seem to like so much, and stirs sugar into his tea, a look of simple, bleary-eyed bliss upon his chops, assuring his anxious companions that it’ll all turn out right in the end. My kinda guy! (Amusingly, the bad guys have only decamped to the ‘Chinese house’, which prior continuity has established as being about 50 yards from the main house.)

And he’s right too, everything turns out splendidly – nobody dies, and our heroines frolic happily off into the middle distance, the temporary inconveniences of sexual assault and moderate nipple torture long forgotten in their endless enthusiasm for life and adventure!

I’m guessing nobody actually paid the detective for his questionable services, but hey, he got some quality snoozing done and had a kick-ass breakfast, so who’s complaining? Back to the office, futuristic secretary-girl, the day’s work awaits!

Above all, “..Impudiques” gives the impression of being that rare thing – a sex film in which everybody seems to be having a good time. With production values even more threadbare than Rollin’s ‘official’ releases, it in some ways has the feel of an enthusiastic student film – all of the cast and crew seem thrilled with idea of making a movie, regardless of the subject matter, and throw in their energy and ideas accordingly, doing whatever they can to create something worth watching.

For all the elaborate praise I’ve bestowed on it above though, it would be wrong to suggest that “..Impudiques” is some kind of lost masterpiece. All else aside, it is still a cheap and cheesy sex flick, probably shot over a couple of weekends with a story they probably made up as they went along. Even if *I* found it uproariously entertaining, that doesn’t necessary mean you will - in fact many more discerning viewers will likely have difficulty making it past Gilda Arancio’s wig, and the English voiceover narration that sounds like it’s been run straight through Google translate.

Within its own humble sphere though, the film is a whole lot more worthwhile than it has any right to be – a testament to the charm and natural talent of Rollin and his collaborators, and a unique time capsule of an era in which it was possible to make an ‘adult’ movie that was humane, funny and genuinely enjoyable. For a thoroughly depressing experience, I recommend watching this as a double-bill with some soul-sucking late night TV ‘erotic thriller’ and weeping bitter tears for the way the human race has gone astray.

Speaking of bitter tears, I’m not usually one to get fussy about print quality etc., but I can’t end this review without a quick word about the new DVD of this movie released by Redemption. The film has been cleaned up nicely as promised, but unfortunately the disc suffers from what I guess must be a botched digital transfer or something. Played on the computer to get some screengrabs, the film was merely a bit fuzzy and pixelated, but on my stand-alone DVD player it was barely watchable, with jerky movements and picture distortion throughout. If this was a bootleg DVD-R or something I wouldn’t mind, but for Redemption to go to all the trouble of remastering an extremely obscure movie then fuck it up like this is incredibly frustrating, and for them to put it on the market as a definitive edition with a price to match is utter bullshit. I don’t know whether this is some kinda ‘first batch’ problem that the forthcoming(?) Region 2 release will sort out, but I don’t fancy laying down the cash to find out. If you’re absolutely desperate to see the movie or you happen across this disc really cheap somewhere, give it a whirl, but otherwise – not recommended.

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