Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies: Bacchannales Sexuelles (1974): or, Legs Wide Shut

Like many European genre directors of the 1970s, Jean Rollin sometimes had to finance his unique cinematic vision by accepting directing jobs that can kindly be called somewhat beneath his ability. Throughout the 70s and even into the 80s, Rollin (often using the directorial pseudonym Michel Gentil) directed several lucrative but slight sexploitation films that blurred the line between art and pornography, sometimes even stepping boldly over said line. These were films whose only purpose was to secure the money for his visionary, deeply personal genre projects like The Demoniacs, Lips of Blood, or Vicar-fave The Living Dead Girl, and for some viewers betray the director’s lack of engagement in the subject matter to an embarrassing, even appalling degree.

But so vivid is the dream-world in which Rollin lived and worked, and so active and curious his prodigious intellect, that even his sex-for-sex’s sake moneymakers contain many of the themes, symbols, and visionary imagery that characterize his more lauded, artistic works. For instance, Rollin’s 1974 film Bacchannales Sexuelles (aka Fly Me the French Way, aka Tout le monde il en a deux) actually presents incisive ideas about duality in human personalities and relationships, together with themes of betrayal, secret societies, and the importance–nay, necessity–of masking one’s “true” identity in order to get along in an aggressively duplicitous society. While on the surface the film reads as a light, insubstantial sex romp, repeated viewings reveal Bacchanales Sexuelles to be one of Rollin’s most artistically challenging and subversive works.

Nah, I’m just kidding. It’s a porn.

Just a taste of what’s to come

The film opens in the office of a magazine publisher, who has received a strange visitor named Malvina (harsh-visaged, statuesque Brigitte Borghese, credited here as Britt Anders), who is looking for the address of the rag’s star investigative reporter. Using her feminine whiles and basilisk stare, Malvina is able to worm the info out of the pencil-stached Frenchman, and is soon on her way, toward what nefarious purpose we will soon learn.

Meanwhile, a young, naive, but not-so-innocent beauty named Valérie (the absolutely STUNNING Joëlle Coeur) arrives at her cousin’s apartment in Paris, where he has graciously offered to let her crash while he’s out of the country on business. The apartment–which according to internet sources (the BEST sources!) was in fact Rollin’s own pad–is well stocked with books, booze, and fresh bedding, and soon Valérie calls her fun-loving friend Sophie (Marie-France Morel) for an impromptu sleepover. While Valérie gets refreshments, Sophie gets curious about the books on the top shelf of a precarious bookcase, and doesn’t let her knee-high heel-boots nor dangerously short skirt prevent her from climbing up to have a look.

File under “A”

Of course this leads to a literary avalanche from which Valérie must rescue her friend, allowing for some groping before a few swigs of the cousin’s vodka brings the girls’ lesbian leanings out of the basement and into the light. We get some low-angle close-ups of Sophie serving Valérie Popov with her top off, and soon the girls are rolling like thunder across the floor and lapp-licking like a couple of Finnish puppies. This goes on for quite some time, and you’ll get no complaints from me–Coeur is a living, breathing, humping work of art, and while Morel is hardly another pretty face, she does have quite an attractive bod.

After the loving, the still-drunken girls don some director-trademark diaphanous gowns and stumble into the sack. leaving the window open to let out the steam heat and sex stank. Unfortunately this allows a pair of petite cat burglars in skintight bodysuits and Lone Ranger masks to invade the apartment in search of some unknown, non-euphemistic booty. Their lack of stealth rouses Sophie from her sleep, and when she is unable to shake Valérie out of her vodka-induced stupor, she spends some time searching the darkened apartment for the source of the noise. This allows Rollin to engage in some light-hearted 1940s-style visual comedy, as the twin terrors hide behind chairs, curtains, and sometimes Sophie herself, who is unable to get a bead on them.

Should have worn blue

Spooked by the goings-on, Sophie telephones her friend Fred (Alain Bastin) and begs him to come over for (and with) protection. But before he can arrive, the home invaders (portrayed by Rollin regulars Marie-Pierre and Catherine Castel) jump out of hiding, roll Sophie in a rug, and exit the apartment through the front door. Because this is 1970s France and black-and-white bodysuits and masks were doubtless common attire, the doorman and other tenants suspect nothing.

Fred arrives, and thinking Sophie is playing sex-games with all her talk of intruders and such, climbs into bed with Valérie and attempts to mount her, mistaking her for his booty-call in the dark. This finally wakes her up, and after a bit of token resistance, brief introductions, and a perfunctory search for their missing friend, the two assume she’s gone for a walk and take the opportunity to get it awn. Another lengthy sex scene ensues, which is a mixed blessing–we get more of Coeur’s astounding nakedness, which is a plus, but it’s often obscured by Bastin’s bony, pasty Frog-butt and greasy long locks, which nobody really needs to see.

“Ooooh, Vicar!”

Meanwhile, the next day, Sophie is taken to a palatial estate and brought before Malvina, who ordered her abduction. Or rather she ordered Valérie’s abduction, in the hopes of getting information about her cousin’s description and whereabouts, since he is of course the investigative journalist she was seeking in the opening scene. Apparently Malvina is high priestess of the Cult of the Pure Flesh, a kind of coven-cum-sex club. Malvina holds her members (and their members) in check with incriminating photos, the negatives of which the cousin stole while undercover and writing a shocking expose for his magazine. Malvina wants the photos back, and will go to any lengths and depths to get them.

The priestess refuses to believe Sophie’s protestations that she’s not the Eurobabe they’re looking for, thus cementing the recurrent mistaken-identity theme. Smoking a hookah while a nearly un-clad female servant sucks and licks at her feet, Malvina orders Sophie tortured in order to get the information they require. She’s quickly taken to a dungeon where The Crimson Executioner‘s less-fearsome brother delivers a half-hearted lashing, while henchcouple Karl and Frida (Marcel Richard and Minia Malove) get all excited by the bondage and engage in energetic sex on a fur-lined bench. While the action has all been softcore simulation up to this point, some shots here of Karl feasting on Frida’s furry funspot seem too up-close to not be legit.

“Hi, I’m Stan. I’ll be your torturer this evening.”

Back at the apartment and still unconcerned about Sohpie’s disappearance, Valérie and Fred have each other for breakfast, complete with Nutella bodypaint, which is nowhere near as sexy as it sounds. When Sophie’s torture yields no results, Malvina sends one of her twins back to the apartment, this time disguised as a maid, to try to find the negatives while dusting. It’s not long before the faux-maid, Valérie, and Fred are in the bathtub together for a soapy menage a trois, which is really the only way to tip the cleaning staff imo. (The twin–I think it’s Catherine, but I can’t be sure–also displays some Euro-style hairy pits here, so watch for that if that’s your thing.) After the lengthy three-way fizzles, the REAL maid shows up, leading to the first bit of awkwardness evinced by anyone in the story. Her livelihood threatened, Real Maid starts a knock-down drag-out catfight with Faux Maid, which surprisingly does NOT devolve into lesbian sex.

Caught in her lies and with a vicious house servant yanking on her pubes (seriously), Faux Maid spills the beans about Malvina’s scheme and the photos. Fred, who found the negatives while looking for hashish the previous night–offers them to her if she will tell them where to find Sophie. Seeing a way out from under Malvina’s stiletto sandals, Faux Maid readily agrees, and Fred and Valérie head out to rescue their friend at last.

Before agreeing to a blind date with the Duke, Valérie has a few questions.

Surprisingly, back at the manor house there’s even MORE sex going on, with Malvina’s servant Paul (Jean-Paul Hazy) failing to satisfy his mistress and being “punished” by having to go downstairs and service Sophie in the dungeon. (Oh, please don’t throw me in the briar patch!) We also get a strange scene with Malvina practicing her handgun marksmanship on a bunch of well-dressed mannequins, shooting one in the crotch before making out with it, and Lips of Blood star Annie Belle shows up as a new recruit to the club. Valérie and Fred arrive just in time for the club’s latest ritual meeting, which is of course the centerpiece of the flick. Men and women wearing long black robes, robber masks, and nothing else line the walls, while Malvina (resplendent in chainmail lingerie) pronounces the rites of the Pure Flesh and then goes around fluffing everyone prior to the ritual. Seriously.

If you insist.

Valérie and Fred are discovered, they’re chained to the wall with Sophie, and the orgy commences in a scene so reminiscent of the bacchanal from Eyes Wide Shut that I wouldn’t be surprised if Kubrick had been taking notes. Paul takes Annie Belle on the altar while Malvina chortles with glee, but at the height of the ceremony the Faux Maid busts in and announces she has the negatives, which she then throws in the fire, thus freeing all the partygoers from Malvina’s thrall. No longer under the threat of blackmail and thus required to have sex with gorgeous French people for Malvina’s enjoyment, everyone quickly gathers their laundry and leaves. In a final twist, Paul reveals himself to be Valérie’s cousin–he was there all along!–and turns the whole master-servant table upside-downy on his former mistress. With Sexy Results.

Depending on your point of view.

Okay, so Bacchannales Sexuelles is not going to go down in any Rollin scholar’s book as one of his best, but a perv with a thing for arty 70s genre cinema (not to name any names…) will find some stuff to like here. The plot is silly but never boring, even if the sex scenes can try one’s patience (or endurance) at times. And Rollin did manage to sneak in a few of his favorite themes and symbols–the young and sexy doubles, the secret masked cults (please to see The Nude Vampire), the diaphanous gowns–even in the service of a money-grabbing wank-facilitator. He even gets off a few striking compositions with the exteriors of the villa and Malvina’s target practice, and slips in a few interesting angles during the sex scenes, particularly when the focal point is Joëlle Coeur, who also made an impression as The Wrecker in Rollin’s slightly less sexy opus The Demoniacs.

Every Occasion is a Special Occasion

It’s no wonder Rollin and his camera love Coeur–she is SMOKIN’ HAWT. The long dark hair, the gorgeous features, the frankly astounding and frequently undraped body–we’re almost at Edwige Fenech levels of ridiculous sexiness here folks, absolutely DANGEROUSLY seductive. Added to her miraculous gorgeousity, Coeur shows a certain impish playfulness that is absolutely winning–she looks like she’s having a blast, and it’s hard not to go along for the ride.

The rest of the cast is serviceable (ba-dump), with the standouts being Brigitte Borghese’s commanding performance as sexy ice-queen Malvina and Marie-France Morel as the frequently-fastened-and-fucked Sophie. On the upside, all the women, even in bit parts, are lovely and unshy about dropping their miniskirts. On the downside, the men are just as brave, but nowhere near as nice to look at. Apparently the Unwashed Anorexic Anemic chic was big in Paris in 74, because these are some fugly individuals who in no way deserve the beauteous bounty bestowed upon them by Rollin.

Seriously, ladies?

So while Bacchannales Sexuelles doesn’t approach the director’s more poetic, lyrical, genre-centric fare, for me it definitely passed the entertainment test, in more ways (and more times) than I care to count. It’s a film that rewards multiple viewings, and I can see myself returning to it again and again in the future, IYKWIMAITYD. Therefore, 2.75 thumbs for this Rollin sex-romp.

And if you’re in the neighborhood, could somebody check in on the Duke? He hasn’t been answering his phone since I loaned him this flick a few days ago…I’m starting to worry he might be dehydrated.

“OBEY!”

A few more images from Bacchannales Sexuelles (1974):

Me too!

Malvina proudly displays her 100th-visit commemorative portrait of the Duke of DVD

Only a maniac would ever leave


Slide it in


Hint: you’re the one with the boobs.


Malvina prefers the Unreal Doll(tm)


L’affaire de Coeur

Be sure to visit Jeremy Richey’s essential blog Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience for more about Rollin’s career and collaborators, in a decidedly more scholarly vein.

Read F:TJRE’s review of Bacchannales Sexuelles here

And don’t miss F:TJRE’s fascinating focus on Joelle Coeur Here

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