Plot: forty-something and two feisty twenty-year-olds roadtrip around rural France.
The first few directorial features from Joël Séria have an autobiographical slant. His debut Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) was an irreverent coming of age tale loosely based on the 1954 Parker–Hulme murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand. Séria had designed it after his own experiences and rigid Catholic upbringing in the rural environs of provincial France. Before Satánico Pandemónium (1975) and Alucarda (1977) shocked deeply devout Mexican audiences senseless Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) didn’t spare church nor state and was deemed so transgressive, incendiary, and iconoclastic that it was banned domestically on grounds of blasphemy. Even many decades after its original release Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) effortlessly manages to shock. Which brings us to Charlie et ses deux nénettes (or Charlie and His Two Chicks hereafter), or Joël Séria’s soulful contemplation on everything beautiful in life. Whether that is a continental breakfast, a fresh pint of beer, or a half-naked adolescent girl. Before becoming a director Séria was a struggling actor and worked as a street vendor. Charlie and His Two Chicks was his way of reflecting on that phase of his life.
Whereas Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) was unapologetically bleak and oozed with the blackest of contempt Charlie and His Two Chicks goes the exact opposite direction. Only Marie, the Doll (1976) would come close, and even that started out just as lighthearted, and good-natured as this and As the Moon (1977) a year later. Mais non, this is about as far removed from Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) as is possible. Charlie and His Two Chicks is a comedic drama about the small things that make life worth living. Often described as a working class take on Madly (1970) (from and with Alain Delon) or a hippie-free-love riff on Ernst Lubitsch's Design For Living (1933); it wouldn’t be a Séria feature if there wasn’t some social commentary. This time Séria unashamedly examines and questions the establishment and accepted social constructs that force people into positions (social, economic, and otherwise) that they don’t want. Above all else, it opposes the French worker ethic – and that good things come to those who put in the hours, the diligence, and the effort. It rejects the Malthusian Darwinian theory and Protestant ethic of hard work under an exploitative, predatory capitalist system that is nothing more than a social construct to keep its citizenry tired and docile. Instead it oozes with an infectious joie de vivre and posits that the carefree lifestyle does wonders for body, mind, and soul. Perhaps also not unimportant it shows that the average homme quadragénaire without a solid income can land two searingly hot twenty-year-olds in his lap without doing much of anything to warrant it.
Charlie Moret (Serge Sauvion) is a 39-year-old work reluctant and commitment averse vagrant. On the steps of the National Employment Agency somewhere in the Parisian suburbs he strikes up a conversation with two beautiful girls. Guislaine (Jeanne Goupil) and Josyane (Nathalie Drivet) are both are twenty and out of work. The former is a hairstylist and the latter is salesclerk and both want something more out of life than the soul-killing 9-to-5 grind After having spoken to the recruitment consultant (Annie Savarin) on a whim Charlie invites the two chicks to a drink in a nearby café on the sidewalk and continue their conversation there. Guislaine and Josyane are wide-eyed and pretty. They’re ditzy, smiley, giggly, and enthusiast to converse with someone nearly twice their age. The chemistry and connection with Charlie is instantaneous. The drink turns into a dinner date and when the night is over he invites the girls to his home. Instead of sleeping on the couch, they dive straight into bed with him. By the following morning the three comfortably continue their arrangement. Charlie, Guislaine, and Josyane engage in a mutually respectful platonic love triangle. Charlie loves his girls and in him they see the loving father figure they apparently never had.
To make ends meet Charlie and his two chicks become traveling street vendors. Guislaine and Josyane become vital additions and soon the three are making a pretty penny to finance their freewheeling, carefree lifestyle. As they travel from town to town on one such markets the three make their acquaintance with worldly Tony (Jean-Pierre Marielle), a vendor of Chartres cathedral miniatures. Tony is a suave and fast-talking macho who easily insinuates himself into the thus far uncomplicated love triangle. He storms into their cozy little world and sweeps young Josyane hopelessly off her feet with his luxurious trailer and sophistication. After much deliberation and thought Josyane ventures out into the world with Tony leaving Charlie and Guislaine heartbroken and sad. Now with Josyane no longer around Charlie and Guislaine dutifully travel from market to market, and as the seasons change it becomes increasingly clear that they are living next to, and not with, each other. The passion when Josyane was around is no longer there. On their way to Paris Charlie and Guislaine notice an abandoned vehicle on the side of the road. Sitting shivering and crying in the trunk is a destitute Josyane. At long last reunited Charlie et ses deux nénettes reconcile, rekindle their flame, and hit the open road.
Producer Gérard Lebovici originally wanted Jean-Paul Belmondo to star, but when Séria send him a copy of Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) he politely declined. Lebovici left and the project was handed to Albina du Boisrouvray instead. Given the task of replacing Belmondo were Jean-Pierre Marielle and Serge Sauvion. Marielle was a monument in French cinema and his ventures into English-speaking roles are far and few. Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) and Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code (2006) (watch for him as the aging and murdered Louvre curator Jacques Saunière) appear to be the better known. Sauvion was mainly a television – and voice actor who regularly could be found on the big screen, but is unknown otherwise. Back again is Séria muse Jeanne Goupil – and what a difference a year makes. Or two as it is in this case. Goupil has blossomed into a stunning young woman, and whatever awkwardness she was plagued with during Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) is wholly and completely absent here. Goupil and Séria would marry in 1975, have a child, and have been together since. The second nénette is Nathalie Drivet who would work with Séria again for the comedy Cookies (1975) and the twisted romance Marie, the Doll (1976). Somehow Goupil and Drivet never ended up working with Jean Rollin.
Like the German comedies from around this time Charlie and His Two Chicks is a very laidback affair. At no point is it in a hurry to tell any sort of story as it freewheels from one scene to the next having Charlie and his two girls either enjoying a good meal or driving to their next stop. While it may not possess the deeply oneiric atmosphere of Faustine and the Beautiful Summer (1972) it concerns itself not much with comedy, and more often than not it’s a contemplation on life, and the small things that make it worthwhile. And that’s really what concerns Charlie and His Two Chicks, the platonic relation between the three leads. For the most part it just wobbles along in a sort of episodic fashion until Jean-Pierre Marielle is introduced. His character is the crux of the feature. In Josyane’s absence Charlie and Guislaine come to the sobering realization that the chemistry and mutual affection is gone when Josyane’s no longer around. It’s a sweet little tale of redemption about three everyday misfits (pariahs in the eyes of “normal” society) who find comfort in each other’s company. Perhaps it would be a stretch to call Charlie and His Two Chicks a fairytale, but it has that magic realism often found in French cinema. It’s not Amélie (2001) but it’s never for a lack of trying. It was to blue-collar France what Rita, Sue and Bob, Too (1987) was to Great Britain.
The most interesting thing about Séria’s career is that he followed the exact opposite trajectory of many of his contemporaries. He started out in horror with Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) and from there gradually ascended into regular, mainstream cinema. Of the Séria canon Charlie and His Two Chicks is, by a wide margin, the most easy-going and accessible up until that point. Only Cookies (1975) and As the Moon (1977) would navigate even further into the mainstream with Marie, the Doll (1976) smackdab in the middle as the prerequisite transitional effort between the two phases. And that’s the strange thing about Joël Séria, he never went on to make either languid, dreamy fluff like Faustine and the Beautiful Summer (1972) nor something resembling a proxy-Jean Rollin fantastique as Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1971). In that respect only Marie, the Doll (1976) bordered lightly on said territory. Of course, Séria was smart to ride the wave of German and Italian comedies from around this time, and Charlie and His Two Chicks, Cookies (1975) and As the Moon (1977) fit perfectly within that context. It just makes you wonder what Joël could have done had he followed Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971) with a bunch of lesbian vampire flicks to give Jean Rollin some competition or an occult horror in the vein of Erotic Witchcraft (1972) or A Woman Possessed (1975) from Mario Mercier. It could have been the French Blood Of the Virgins (1967) or Vampyres (1974). The world may never know.