Fans of Éric Rohmer movies! The book "Les vacances" by Julie Wolkenstein has just been released in french bookstores: this novel tales the search for the film "Les Petites Filles modèles" (Little Model Girls).
First feature movie by Éric Rohmer, almost completed, never released in movie theaters, a lost film! No one knows what becames the precious reels. Have they been destroyed by their unsatisfied author? Are they stored in an attic in the french Eure region where the filming took place?
On October 30, 1952, Maurice Schérer signed the production contract for his first feature film. He joined forces with Guy de Ray and Joseph Kèkè in CPPC, a new film production company based in Montreuil (a reference to Georges Méliès ). Joseph Adjignon Kèkè is a 24-year-old student from Dahomey whose family fortune comes from oil palm plantations in his country (the Dahomey colony later became Benin).
Éric Rohmer has a special tenderness for the comtesse de Ségur which he discovered from his childhood, a Rohmerian before the hour in her titles, one of her collections entitled Comédies et proverbes. Unless it is the reverse!
Shooting financial conditions were in profit sharing: small crew and reduced equipments, unknown talents, natural scenery, filming in the order of the script... This method really announced the filmmaker's later filming.
The setting-up of the crew completely escapes Rohmer, who must comply with the strict regulations of the (french) National Cinematography Center which forces Pierre Guilbaut as advisor.
Guilbaut chose Jean-Yves Tierce as cinematographer, André Tixador as cameraman, André Cantenys as first assistant, Bernard Clarens as sound mixer and Sylvette Baudrot as continuity girl, all of them owners of the sesame that is the professional ID, when Rohmer would have preferred his friends, who were not licensed, Rivette for filming, Godard as assistant.
Shooting does not go well, Rohmer soon encounters quite big difficulties. Clashes with the team are common, he has to make compromises that he deems harmful and he hardly counts allies on the set.
Rivette, Truffaut and especially Godard spend some time on the set, which did not do much good. One day the continuity girl's typewriter disappears, Godard has stolen it to resell it: Sylvette Baudrot get furious. Atmosphere on the set likewise.
The film nevertheless reaches its completion after 52 shooting days. Jean Mitry and his assistant Cécile Decugis edit the film between January and February 1953. Little work remains: music score, sound editing and mixing. Just another month and the one hour and twenty movie shall be finished.
At this time, the co-producer and future Beninese, Joseph Kèkè, stops the film. He decides to no longer invest a dime in the company. Any financial solution could be found though the missing amount was ridiculous.
No doubt there is another explanation for the sudden and definitive abort of Les Petites Filles modèles.
Joseph Kèkè had met a stripper in a cabaret he attended in Pigalle. While in preparation, he proposed her for a character in the movie.
Éric Rohmer refuses! A fight breaks out in the cabaret, the stripper is molested, slapped, finished with a broken tooth. She lodged a complaint against Kèkè and claimed two millions (old francs) of damages. Joseph Kèkè hired one of his teachers as a lawyer, Robert Badinter, four monthes younger. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence, Kèkè found not guilty.
Is that an explanation for the sudden troubles of Éric Rohmer's film: a co-producer struggling with justice? Or perhaps his family in Dahomey had send him enough money and would had told him to stop the costs?
After having finished his studies, Joseph Kèkè returned back to his country, becames the first minister of justice of the new Republic of Dahomey, after the independence in 1960. Several times minister and deputy, he was also the founding father of the Rassemblement National pour la Démocratie in Benin.
He just passed on July 1st, 2017 at the age of 89. He left to join Éric Rohmer, perhaps taking with him Les petites filles modèles, an erotic film by Jean-Claude Roy released in 1971.