Directed By Jean Rollin
Also Known As
Les paumées du petit matin
France/1981 – 95 Minutes/Fullscreen
DVD Provided by Redemption Video
Article written by Craig Hamann
Many years ago a five year old boy watched LE CAPITAINE FRACASSE, a French film by writer/director Abel Gance that included both comedy and drama. More importantly, it had moments of sweeping surreal scenes that permanently affected young Jean Michel Rollin. From that point on, Rollin knew he wanted to make movies. And so he did. Rollin became a signature filmmaker, defying genre limitations and approaching cinema with a stylish sense of dramaturgy and imagination. He created his own visual universe, offering his personal take on themes, and told his stories in a series of offbeat vignettes. While he never became an icon of mainstream cinema, he certainly developed a loyal fan following in the cult world. Sadly, maestro Rollin lost his battle with a long illness and died December 15th of this year. Rollin fans will no doubt miss this great talent, meaning that he may be gone but he is not forgotten.
On the other hand, Rollin’s THE ESCAPEES is a somewhat forgotten film, being sort of lost in the shuffle among some of his more well known works. Truly, it not vintage Rollin filmmaking, even though it mixes genres and has moments of dreamlike imagery. Here we see Rollin’s famous use of episodic adventures to cover for an absence of plot. Two girls, Michelle and Marie, escape from an insane asylum and end up working in a bizarre burlesque show that plays on a makeshift stage in a junkyard. There they befriend an attractive thief named Sophie and begin traveling with her to commit robberies. Unfortunately, neither Michelle nor Marie is good at stealing. Nevertheless, Sophie likes her new companions and considers them friends. When Sophie falls in love with a handsome young man, she persuades the girls to stowaway on a ship with her and sail away. But the law catches up with Sophie, Michelle, and Marie. What fate awaits them now?
There is a noticeable lack of focus in parts of this film. Rollin tries to counter these awkward moments with filler scenes that simply don’t work. That’s too bad, because there is potential here since the girls are immensely watchable. Laurence Dubas is engaging and sexy beyond belief as Michelle, a character that is basically unhappy with everything about life but can’t run away from her sentimental side. Michelle wants to find a man and have sex, yet when the opportunity arises, she is clumsily uninvolved and ends up fretting more about her naïve friend Marie than worrying about her supposed liaison. Christiane Coppé is beautiful and touching as the frightened and confused Marie, and Marianne Valiot is tough-girl attractive and streetwise charismatic as the thief Sophie. Even Rollin favorite Brigitte Lahaie shows up in a cameo role as a lesbian (what else?) seductress.
Unfortunately, not all the cast is as much fun to watch as the ladies are. Some of the smaller roles seem pointless and underdeveloped, as do the scenes they appear in, but that’s not to say that the story is a complete wash. Well, actually, there isn’t a story, but several of the vignettes are so delightfully weird, deliciously directed, and well photographed in a purely Rollin-esque manner that the viewer can’t help but be entertained. This isn’t a horror film or an action flick, yet it’s not a straight ahead character picture either. Again, this is Jean Rollin and he mixes genres, taking the viewer on an inventive journey with the two gorgeous but socially challenged girls as they meet equally eccentric characters in places with oddball backdrops. It’s all done for fun, well, until the surprisingly violent third act rolls around, which leads to a peculiar and dark ending.
Salvation Films (in this case: Redemption Video) provides a decent enough transfer. Picture quality is good and contains no obvious glitches. The audio is in French with easy to read subtitles and is delivered with an average level of clarity. Not bad but not great. The extras include an interesting Rollin interview, a stills gallery, and trailers for other releases. As for the film, do I recommend THE ESCAPEES to genre fans? Once again, this isn’t vintage Rollin filmmaking. I would say the main problem is that Rollin usually finds a way to more cohesively connect the episodes in his films. However, this movie possesses few links between the abrupt encounters the two girls experience and sometimes it all begins to feel choppy and unhinged. Still, there is enough imaginative imagery and episodic weirdness, not to mention beautiful women, to keep Rollin fans more than happy.