Saturday, January 24, 2009
With the exceptions of Brigitte Lahaie and Marie-Pierre Castel, no actress was ever as suited to Jean Rollin’s particular cinematic landscape than the unforgettable Joëlle Coeur. Unlike Lahaie and Castel, who both appeared in multiple Jean Rollin features, Coeur only worked with the legendary director three times and only once on a film in which the director signed his own name.
Information on the delectable Coeur is extremely hard to come by. The IMDB doesn’t list a date or place of birth and has no other information listed besides her filmography, which spans a relatively short eight year period from the early to late seventies. A glance over her film credits shows her as an actress who almost exclusively appeared in the French sexploitation films that populated cinemas before hardcore all but buried the genre in the late seventies. Rollin himself would mention that it was the legalization of hardcore that would cause Joëlle Coeur to retire from the screen as the new permissiveness held no interest for her and, as Rollin recalled in Encores The Demoniacs booklet, “She did right to have never taken the plunge.”
So what is that that makes Joëlle Coeur, an actress with less than twenty mostly forgotten films to her credit, so special and memorable? Simply put, there is something delightfully tongue in cheek and playful in the sexuality Coeur presented on the screen and I suspect that had she been around in the silent period she could have been one of the screen’s greatest physical comedians. Rollin would refer to her as, “a superb creature” in Encore’s booklet and that he never knew of another actress who knew, “how to make better use of her body”, and it is that remarkable physicality that comes out in her performances, especially with her remarkable turn as the ferocious ‘Tina the Wrecker’ in The Demoniacs.
Coeur all but demolishes the screen in The Demoniacs, delivering an performance overflowing with humor, charisma and sexuality. Fearless and with a wonderful go for broke attitude so often missing from the screen, Coeur makes it impossible for anyone watching to take their eyes off of her in The Demoniacs. The fact that she would only work in film for a few years after is regrettable, and still feels like a major loss for French cinema.
The actress whom, as Rollin recalled in his commentary, had a perfect and “great image” for the screen first appeared on the screen as Joelle Faguet in a small role in Jean Desville’s Jeux Pour Couples Infideles (also known as Hot and Blue). Just a year later she would make her debut in a Rollin film with a large role in his delightful Michel Gentil signed Jeunes Filles Impudiques. Later that year she would also appear in what would become one of her most popular and memorable films, Max Pecas I Am Frigid…Why? (don’t you miss the seventies?), a film that featured another one of Rollin’s most memorable heroines, Sandra Julien.
Coeur would continue working steadily throughout the mid seventies, including a couple of times for important French auteur Jose Benazeraf, before hooking up with Rollin again on The Demoniacs and Tout le Monde il en a Deux (Fly me the French Way, Bacchanales Sexuelles).
Describing her memorably in Virgins and Vampires as a “Lust provoking animal woman” Rollin clearly has fond memories of Coeur and marveled at the way in The Demoniacs commentary how she allowed him to use “her body like it was a statue.” The director would also compare her to legendary Brigitte Lahaie on the commentary track and pointed out that he even went so far as to frame Lahaie the same way he had Couer in The Grapes of Death a few years down the road.
Joëlle Coeur's final film credit according to the IMDB occurred in 1978 with Michel Lemoine’s Jeunes filles en Extase, a film sadly all but lost in time alongside most of her other work from the seventies. While never a major star, Joëlle Coeur is a legend to fans of Jean Rollin’s unique brand of fantastic cinema. Perhaps my favorite thing ever written about her was Tim Lucas’ point in his review of Bacchanales Sexuelles for Video Watchdog 31 that the delightful actress, “probably could have carried the film without a plot” a terrifically dead-on and resonate statement on a film figure who was deserving of more of a career than she got.