Friday, April 23, 2010

Max Pécas's Cinq filles en furie (1963)

Despite the familiar score by Georges Garvarentz, the expansive and isolated wilderness setting, and the eponymous en furie, Cinq filles en furie (1963), directed by Max Pécas, is oh-so barely a Western. The cinq filles are the centerpiece of the diverse French director's feature; and would his viewer like to spend ninety-or-so minutes with them?
Isabel (Jacqueline Wolff) roams the countryside with a bandoleer around her hips and a double-barrelled shotgun in hand. It does not appear that she has killed anyone yet, despite the fact she almost kills her sister, Jenny (Felicia Andrews), before Sylvia (Jeannie Peterson) stops her. "I thought that I saw a fox," Isabel tells Sylvia, and as Jenny emerges from behind a bush, it would appear that Isabel's observation was correct. The three women are combing the countryside, looking for a hidden cache of treasure, dropped during WWII by the allies and hidden by Isabel and Jenny's father (before he became a war prisoner). Isabel, Jenny, and Sylvia live in a cottage with Aunt Marthe (Colette Régis), an embittered woman with a fondness for drink. Viola (Susann Flynn) and Agnes (Ann Marie Shaw), cousins to Isabel and Jenny, arrive at the cottage for a visit, after being dropped off by handsome engineer, Georges (Michael Jameson). Their arrival angers Isabel as she immediately knows that she has two rivals in her quest for the hidden cache of treasure.

Now that the cinq filles are introduced and an established genre has provided the framework for the narrative, enter sordid and sensational elements. Jenny thinks that the hidden cache is a lot of crap: under the auspice of searching for the cache, Jenny is strolling and sunbathing, listening to her radio or driving her convertible, or making time with her wilderness fella, Blackie (Fred Thompson). Truth be told, Blackie really has eyes for Sylvia, as does engineer Georges. Sylvia is currently holding hands with Georges which induces jealousy in Blackie and in Isabel. Isabel met Sylvia while she was an art student in Paris and became mysteriously taken with her. Isabel, however, is saddled with carrying the en furie within Cinq filles en furie and shows little in the way of love. Isabel once had a child whose care she entrusted to Aunt Marthe while Isabel went to Paris. The child died in tragic circumstances, and Isabel resents her Aunt, not only for her apparent lack of child care but her continued reluctance to share any information towards the location of the hidden cache. Aunt Marthe knows the location but is steadfast in keeping it secret. "It's cursed," she says, and should remain hidden. When Viola learns that Georges is smitten with Sylvia, she decides to stir the pot by pitting Blackie against Georges in order to gain an advantage over Isabel. Agnes becomes Viola's spy within Cinq filles or, like the viewer, often a voyeur.
A lackadaisical style and a laissez-faire attitude towards its genre are the true hidden treasures of Cinq filles en furie. Infused more with innuendo than bullets, Cinq filles is early Pécas erotica, allowing his imagination to think of various scenarios for short shorts and skirt flashes and charged emotions. Its narrative is true pulp fiction and can only be transcended by being provocative and playful. Pécas is not wholly successful with Cinq filles, but there's such a rebellious spirit to the whole film for its veiled disdain for strict adherence to genre conventions. For example, Isabel fires her rifle at seemingly everything and kills nothing. Her rifle makes a lot of noise and appears more annoying than intimidating to most. In the sole sequence where Isabel dons her dress and arms herself with a beautiful smile (once revealed), she is far more successful in capturing what she wants. Although Andrews's Jenny doesn't drive the narrative, she often stands out above all, not just for her beauty but her attitude towards life: what's the point in chasing something, if you do not want its object? When looking for the cache under Isabel's orders, Jenny is truly strolling--whatever adventures appear before her are far more exciting than this ridiculous pursuit.

Max Pécas would subsequently make more influential and provocative cinema than Cinq filles en furie. His imagery within Cinq filles appears haphazard and these compositions wonderfully carry it. This is cinema looking to capture a beautiful smile or taking a stolen glimpse. Meandering and lithe. Available on DVD-R from Something Weird Video.

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