Isolation is a powerful and underestimated state of being. While, on the surface, it may have a negative connotation and seem unwanted in society, Jean Rollin’s Les deux Orphelines Vampires glorifies this condition. It also allows those watching the unique perspective of two bloodthirsty sisters, fueled by the perverse and violent desires that come each night with the darkness. Delivering a powerful message while keeping to the most simplistic cinematic qualities, Les Deux Orphelines Vampires is based on Rollin’s novel of the same name. It’s a classic dedication to the avant-garde style.
Blind by day, sisters Louise and Henriette live in the care of nun at Les Glycines orphanage, unable to visually interact with the world around them. Those who care for them are held in a seemingly hypnotic state of affection for the girls, showing clear favoritism and a genuine interest in finding a home for them. “Dear Lord I beg of you, make it so that the good doctor Dennery adopts our little martyrs. They are so dear, so patient, so innocent, so gentle.” The aforementioned Dr. Dennery, an eye specialist, is convinced he can heal the girls, and after meeting and having also been entranced by their beauty and innocence, he adopts them. So begins a new chapter in the lives of the undead sisters as they are given the opportunity to leave in hopes of starting a better life.
It is only when the sun sets and the sky turns the screen into a fluorescent blue hue, that our two heroines become their true selves, taking to the streets to kill, feed, and quench their endless thirst. “The day for us is blue, the light for us is black, and other people’s sun has made us blind, but when it is hidden, our dream begins. They’ll never know the two blind orphans can see at night.” Plagued also by the memory of several past lives that have ended in violent and traumatic deaths, the girls take constant refuge in cemeteries, which provide them with the cover and solace needed for them to reminisce and recover their strength, referred to fondly as their “true homes.” Uncertain of whether they themselves are alive or dead, they seem not to care for long before their carnal nature seems to grasp strongly onto any sense of morality they may be known for by day. Still, there is a constant and ominous sense of curiosity expressed by Louise and Henriette throughout the film to try and discover their original identities. Frequent repressed memories reveal their nature as Aztec goddesses who were ritually sacrificed in the 15th century to satisfy their gods.
A simple film with simple qualities, there are no special effects here; rather it’s classic storytelling, and one with carefully chosen dialogue. They’re vampires, after all, and as such it is not difficult to determine what the premise will be, which is essentially the two travelling the streets of New York and Paris, feeding on every animal and human who is unfortunate enough to cross their paths. It is not so much the plot that makes this movie, but it’s ability to effectively deliver. It is delicate and refined, much in the same way that the two sisters are, being able to captivate both viewers and characters alike. The film would not have been the same was it not for the chemistry between Isabelle Taboul and Alexandra Pic, after all. It is rumored, in fact, that Rollin chose Isabelle Teboul, the actress who plays Henriette, specifically for her beautiful hair.
Although the scenes seem to drag on very slowly, it coincides with the films lower budget as well as the pace of other French films, especially seen in Rollin’s earlier work. The occasional dust mite or flaws in the shots also add to its authenticity as the viewer is forced to step outside the realm of what we know cinema to be today into one of raw imperfection. The soundtrack is appropriate and consistent with the mood of the film overall, having been compiled by noted composers Phillipe d’Aram de Valada and Ars Antigua.
Though alone at first, they meet several other creatures of the night throughout their journey, those who find an equivalent level of pleasure from this time of day. While some of these characters are more like themselves, such as the midnight lady, a stunning and powerful vampire who resides in the catacombs of an old church and saves them from a potential mishap, another is discovered to be a ghoul and feed on the flesh of cadavers, sympathizing with their struggle to find a home to call their own.
Unable to effectively harness their desire to kill and feed, both sisters are compelled to keep their secret hidden whilst fighting their unyielding urges. Although they receive assistance throughout their escapades from other creatures, it is unsatisfactory as their identities are constantly threatened through either carelessness or chance. What begins as a mostly quiet and somber film quickly develops into a thrilling rush of anticipation as the immortal sisters cling to their desires and identities, hoping that this life will not come to end as countless others have. Coming through on the style and delivery he is so often attributed to, Jean Brolin’s Les deux orphellines vampires is avant-guarde storytelling at it’s finest.