Saturday, December 26, 2009

Jess Franco's Sexy Sisters (1977)

Edna (Pamela Stanford) is not paying attention to the typically surreal floor show at the club, two nude females in interesting poses and donning demon masks; she is far more interested in Joe (Kurt Meinicke), after draping her leg over his chair to attract his attention. Edna requests a light for her cigarette and a drink, only to have both turned down. Joe's ears prick up when she finally and bluntly requests a shag, and the two go back to Edna's villa. Edna works him up in the living room; her maidservant serves bubbly champagne and undresses Joe; and then, Edna introduces Joe to Milly (Karine Gambier), Edna's sister who is bound to her bed and locked in a cozy cell. Joe and Milly have sex. Dr. Carlos Barrios (Jack Taylor) visits Milly the following morning to treat her physical symptoms and her "nymphomania." Milly is also apparently suffering from powerful sexual hallucinations, a symptom of possible paranoid schizophrenia.
Jess Franco's Sexy Sisters (1977) is one of a baker's dozen (or so) films that Franco made for Swiss producer, Erwin C. Dietrich, who paints this portrait of the Spanish film maker while under contract with Dietrich. When asked, "Was he [Franco] obliged to deliver a certain kind of film while under contract to your company?" Dietrich responds:

Well he pushed himself to work as much as possible. That was also because whenever he was on a set, he knew he had enough to eat. The money he could spend each month was far more that I usually live on, but it still wasn't enough for him. So, naturally he had a lot of financial troubles, overdue bills he had to pay. Several producers were hunting for him because he still owed them large sums. Every once in a while he just disappeared from the hotel where he was staying without paying the bill, leaving his suitcases and personal belongings behind. I can remember once seizing one of his suitcases from a hotel in the South of France from which he had done a moonlight flit. I sent a guy down there to pay Franco's bill and fetch the luggage because Jess told me it contained the negative of a film I had already paid for. Of course there was no negative in the suitcase (laughs). At least he was no longer wanted by the French police. Whenever he was shooting, the production paid for his food. That's probably why he wanted to work so much. He always came to me with new stories saying "I will shoot this, I will shoot that." I always gave him a free hand when he worked for me. I could use every type of film and as many of them as possible. (from Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco)

So I suppose Dietrich's answer to the direct question asked is "no" as evidenced by the last sentence of his answer. Dietrich's accompanying anecdote and description of Franco paints the portrait of a desperate, sometimes indulgent, and derelict artist. Not surprisingly, Sexy Sisters appears a desperate, sometimes indulgent, and derelict film. Not all the Franco/Dietrich collaborations are like this, however. Jack the Ripper (1976) with Klaus Kinski is perhaps their best known, while Doriana Grey (1976) and Blue Rita (1977) are two highlights (and personal favorites), for example.
Sexy Sisters begins visually and thematically in classic Franco style: dreamy, disorienting, and hypnotic. The opening floorshow and the odd, contrived sequence of events leading Joe into Milly's "quarters" are fantastically over-the-top. Franco familiar-face, Jack Taylor's appearance is welcomed, and his initial sequence with Gambier's Milly is fun. Taylor brings as much reservation to his role as he can muster (presumably to keep from laughing), while Gambier is totally uninhibited on camera. In fact, Gambier steals all of her scenes within Sexy Sisters and her presence would merit a viewing of the film alone. While the substance of Franco's compositions is wild in the Franco way, his camera is static. Dietrich is later asked in the same interview in Obsession whether he would work again with Franco, today. Dietrich would but says he would not let Franco shoot his own films. Likewise, Dietrich didn't let Franco shoot Sexy Sisters (Peter Baumgartner would shoot the film, a frequent Dietrich collaborator). When Franco shoots his own films, the result is most certainly from the "right side of brain," and the films are always as interesting visually as thematically (and usually poetic). Dietrich obviously disliked Franco's occasional shot out of focus or the poorly-lit, blurry shots which pop up, here and there, in Franco's flicks. Dietrich's style, which he uses in his own directed films, is very "left side of the brain": meticulously-composed, well-lit, and glossy (and usually not very interesting). Franco's static, Dietrich-style filming hurts Sexy Sisters, giving the film an air of coldness and detachment. Sexy Sisters begins a dark and provocative tale. Edna and Milly are true adversaries in the guise of caregiving Edna and pitiful and sick Milly. Edna's elaborate seduction of Joe is revealed to be passive-aggressive torture of Milly. Later, Edna has sex with her maidservant behind the bars in front of Milly with a wicked smile on her face. Later, Edna invites another man over to the villa to have his way with Milly (but this time, he's someone from Milly's past whom she hates very much). Taylor's diagnosis of Milly developing paranoid schizophrenia is fueled by Edna's deeds. Taylor's character thinks Milly's escapades are hallucinations that she is truly believing are real. Edna is doing nothing to dissuade the doctor. Why? The answer to that question comes with the final two-thirds of the film, as Sexy Sisters descends into a tired, formulaic, and predictable plot. Sexy Sisters becomes totally unengaging on a narrative level (and Franco's powerful, discursive visuals are absent to supplant the narrative). Franco is able to steal the occasional flare, but he's hampered by too much of a seeming desire to make a typical softcore film. It doesn't help either that virtually all the male actors, save Taylor, give absolutely atrocious performances. Stanford and Gambier are the real stars here and are shouldered with delivering Sexy Sisters with nearly all of the film's energy. As it stands, Sexy Sisters is completely uneven, undoubtedly entertaining and engaging at times, and truly overshadowed by myriad Franco films in his diverse filmography.


Alex Bakshaev said...

A very interesting read. I'm not too fond of "Sexy Sisters" myself, and completely agree that static shooting style hurts the film which begins promisingly enough and then just falls apart. "Blue Rita" is a good Dietrich-produced Franco I think.
Was very curious to read Dietrich's comments regarding Franco's behaviour, a bit of an eye - opener.
He seems to have the same hectic, irresponsible filming- and lifestyle as Godard.

Hans A. said...

Thank you, Alex for visiting my blog and taking the time to share your thoughts. Blue Rita is a fantastic Franco/Dietrich collaboration (which I hope to write about in the future).

Mr.LargePackage said...

Monster review, Hans. Two nude females in interesting poses donning demon masks describes my normal Saturday night. Sunday morning I usually wake up in a field, naked, covered in Nacho cheese. And yes, the nacho cheese is the extra spicy variety. And that is large and in charge.

Anonymous said...

I m great fan of Jess Franco.......he is one of the greatest art -film n film-art director...