Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973)

What is it about decrepit structures in the middle of nowhere which attracts us so?  If I had to guess, I would venture there are three main reasons.  One, assuming no one is actually living there when you discover it, you can not only use it as a clubhouse but also as a demolition zone.  No one will care what you break, since no one’s there, and even if someone does own the property, they clearly don’t give a crap, or they wouldn’t have allowed it to fall into disrepair.  Please note, this is not me advocating for trespassing and perpetrating the destruction of personal property.  I’m merely trying to convey the mind set I believe is lured in by these sorts of locations.  

Two, they’re scary.  Even if you don’t believe in spooks and spectres, the interiors of some of these places are frightening.  Crumbling plaster, peeling wallpaper, rotting wooden fixtures, all combine into a very real nightmare realm you must dare yourself to enter (you’re not chicken, are you?).  This isn’t at all aided by the fact that the power is typically not in service, transforming every shadow into a black pool of evil, lying in waiting to engulf your soul.  

Third, you get to rummage through the remains of someone else’s life with impunity.  To my mind, this is what makes the second part so eerily effective.  After all, ghosts can’t exist where no one ever lived, right?  But here you have the detritus of someone’s innermost sanctum right in the palm of your hand.  Even if you don’t respect it, which you clearly don’t or you wouldn’t be in there in the first place, you cannot help but be aware of its presence.  And though you may have some of the most minute, personal details of a person’s life sprawled out in a waterlogged pile before you, the person himself/herself is still a mystery, still unknowable, because you’ve not walked in that person’s shoes.  You’ve trod on their floorboards, and that to me is the siren song of the abandoned building to an interloper’s ears.

Brunette Monica (Joëlle Coeur) and blonde Jackie (Gilda Arnacio) are just a couple of young women out strolling through the woods.  Coming upon a high wall, Monica goads Jackie into climbing it with her.  On the other side, they find an old, seemingly abandoned manse.  After walking around for a few more minutes, they head off to bed, where the two make love for a while.  Later that night, Monica still can’t sleep, so she wanders around the house, only to discover Fred (Willy Braque), a jewel thief who has holed up in the house with a good book for the evening.  Upon seeing Monica, though, he gets other ideas, and the two make love for a while.  Jackie discovers that Monica is no longer in bed and goes looking for her friend.  Discovering her and Fred together, Jackie decides to join in, and the three make love for a while (I trust the pattern is becoming clear).  Then Beatrice (Marie Hélène Règne) and her unctuous chauffeur (Francois Brincourt) show up, and things take something of a downturn.

I haven’t seen tons from Jean Rollin’s oeuvre, but I can say this with certainty: unless your sole motive in watching this movie is prurient, you can safely skip Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (aka Jeunes Filles Impudique, aka High School Hitch Hikers, and directed by Rollin  under the Michel Gentil nom de porn) in its entirety.  The first thirty-two minutes of the film comprise my above synopsis (out of which, about two minutes are story-related), and even then, I think I downplayed the sexual content.  Don’t misread this as an anti-porn sentiment, because it isn’t, and I also don’t believe that story and porn are necessarily at cross purposes in a film.  I’m saying they’re at cross purposes here.  And this is despite the fact that I find Ms. Coeur to be astonishing to look at, and am certainly not going to be the one protesting if she wants to take off her kit.  Still and all, don’t watch this film if you are interested in much more than being aroused.

This is not to say that there are no Rollin-esque touches.  From what I’ve read and seen, a great many of the director’s films are mostly plotless affairs, more concerned with atmospherics and visuals than with a cogent plot.  This is very much in evidence in this film, and there are also several instances of the signature Rollin shot of a woman advancing toward camera from afar, staring straight out at the audience but seemingly not all there in the head.  Direct Address is used at various points in the film, though the point here is little beyond titillation.  There are also some interesting settings with the “Chinese House” (basically a gazebo enclosed with stained glass windows) being the most visually intriguing.  The filmmaker chooses to shoot a key sex scene (which is sort of a misnomer, since it carries about as much weight as any of the other ones) using the colored panes as frames within frames with Fred and Monica on the inside and Beatrice on the outside looking in (at us).  Speaking of which, there are also several other shots used in the sex scenes where the action is either framed through a doorway or in a mirror’s reflection.  This brings me to the most compelling facet of this film.

If nothing else means much of anything in this film, it can absolutely be argued that it is an adult fairytale.  The girls are the young, not-so-innocent babes in the woods (they are innocent in terms of how freely they give their love, not in how experienced they are in negotiating the human body’s nethers).  Monica, in her red jacket is Red Riding Hood.  Jackie with her straw-colored hair and ability to sleep through almost anything is Goldilocks.  The pair enter a magical world by climbing over a barrier (this is also symbolized in the shots composed in reflections; they are through the proverbial looking glass), choosing to explore the unknown.  The house is that place where danger dwells, both Grandma’s house and the house of the Three Bears.  The jewel thieves are the wolves/bears who threaten the girls’ lives, physically and sexually, and this is where they will experience a couple of new ways of the flesh.  The Woodsman character should be the feckless Detective Harry (Pierre Julien), but with his assistant (Reine Thirion), they essentially become a form of Hansel and Gretel, with Beatrice the witch they are going to stuff into the proverbial oven.  

Nevertheless, with these fascinating elements in play, Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (a title I can only assume was slapped on the film to cash in on the likes of Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left, since there are neither schoolgirls nor hitchhiking of any variety to be found herein, though the two films do share one quality; they are both primitively made) is very much a missed opportunity.  The sex scenes feel like sex scenes in a porn and nothing more.  They are completely inorganic, and are intercut with many irrelevant, distracting cutaways (this is not to say they aren’t hot).  When the plot does choose to intrude, instead of being imbued with either a dreamlike, surreal quality or just a solid sense of storytelling, it also feels forced, with chunks completely elided, as if they couldn’t be bothered, since this is only porn, which ultimately begs the question, “why should I care?”  Why, indeed?            

MVT:  The sex is what the film is about, and if that’s what you’re interested in, you won’t go away disappointed.  Though if you want a movie that’s more than just a softcore porn, not so much. 

Make Or Break:  As I stated, over half an hour of the film’s opening consists of meandering and meat banging.  All well and good, but also a crystal clear indication of the circles of nothingness in which the film is going to travel.

Score:  3/10

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