Sunday, July 1, 2007

4. Passion Flower Hotel (Boarding School) 1978

"I dislike PASSION FLOWER HOTEL so much I wish I had the money to buy it up and burn it."-Nastassja Kinski, 1981.

Wolfgang Peterson's television film, FOR YOUR LOVE ONLY, had given Nastassja a great deal of notoriety in 1977 and to follow it up she made the rather odd decision to travel to Austria to film a sexploitation coming of age comedy called PASSION FLOWER HOTEL. The film is one of the most widely available of all of Nastassja's film, with a tons of public domain copies flooding the market under a variety of titles including, BOARDING SCHOOL and PREPPY SCHOOLGIRLS.

Directed by a relative novice, Andre Farwagi, and taken from teenager Rosalind Erskine's novel, PASSION FLOWER HOTEL concerns a group of boarding school girls so desperate to have sex that they set up a group designed to sell favors to a local boys school. That is probably the easiest one sentence plot description that is worth coming up with. Set in the late fifties, three Bill Hailey and The Comets songs are heard on the soundtrack, although everything in the film screams 1977, PASSION FLOWER HOTEL'S virtues are easy to pick out. First off the film looks absolutely fabulous and was shot by none other than EMMANUELLE cinematographer, Richard Suzuki. Looking very much like a David Hamilton photograph come to life, Suzuki's photography remains fresh and appealing throughout the whole film, even though the film itself loses most of its appeal after the first few minutes. PASSION FLOWER HOTEL'S other big thing it has going for it is its great Francis Lai soundtrack. While not among Lai's best work it does have several cues that would fit nicely on any Lai best of collection and as a soundtrack lp works very well.
Without Nastassja, Suzuki's photography and Lai's score there would be very little to say about PASSION FLOWER HOTEL. It's a sexploitation flick that delivers very little skin, a coming of age comedy without any real laughs and finally a period piece that is never very evocative of the period it is attempting to portray.
PASSION FLOWER HOTEL'S biggest problem lies in that it never fully commits to what kind of film it wants to be. Part of the blame probably rests in the original source material that was said to have actually been written by a middle age man (Roger Longrigg) instead of the credited teenage Erskine. The film never seems to decide whether or not it wants to invest fully in these young girls and play as a rites of passage film or if it just wants to be a leering look at young ladies in various states of undress.
The film's best moments, not surprisingly, involve Nastassja who gives the warmest performance of her early career. While often later characterized by a more distant European cool, here Nastassja is all smiles and laughter. The scenes of Nastassja hoola hooping, dancing and interacting with the other teenage actresses are among the most surprising of her earliest work and she wouldn't get the chance to be so
funny until 1984's UNFAITHFULLY YOURS.
The film really comes alive in the scenes with Nastassja and the boy of her dreams Fibs, played by Gerry Sudqusit. Sundquist, who would die tragically by his own hand in 1993, is very charismatic and shares a real chemistry with Nastassja. Their pretty explicit love scene at the very end of the film is the highlight of the whole production and probably a sign that the producers should have just went the more exploitative route for the whole film, as the writing wasn't strong enough to really sell the coming of age story.
The final love scene between Nastassja and Sudquuist, does almost seemed dropped from another film. It is like the producers suddenly realized they had made a skin film and had forgotten the nudity. The scene, set to an evocative piece of Lai music, works very well and manages to be extremely erotic while never slipping into just bad taste.
The film features some familiar faces outside of Nastassja's. HELLRAISER actor Sean Chapman has worked consistently since the film and can currently be seen in Michael Winterbottom's A MIGHTY HEART. Fassbinder actor Kurt Raab also pops up as does Austin Power's 'Alotta Fagina' herself, Fabiana Udenio.

PASSION FLOWER HOTEL premiered in Germany in April of 1978 and did fairly well at the box office due to Nastassja's FOR YOUR LOVE ONLY fame. Roman Polanski had cautioned Nastassja to not due the film and it would turn out to be a project that she would regret almost immediately. It would play throughout Europe in 1979 and would finally filter over to the States on home video in the eighties.
John Barry would score a London play with Chad and Jeremy called PASSION FLOWER HOTEL that featured Jane Birkin but I am not sure how close that was to either the book or the film. The movie is, as I noted before, available on any number of public domain dvds and they all pretty much look like they were mastered from the old eighties VHS release, BOARDING SCHOOL.

Nastassja would thankfully have very little time to dwell over the failure of PASSION FLOWER HOTEL, in less than a year she would be starring in a high profile film with one of Italy's greatest actors and getting the best reviews of her young career. PASSION FLOWER HOTEL joins FOR YOUR LOVE ONLY as being the weakest of Nastassja's early roles but is essential viewing for her fans, if just for how different it is from her later more famous roles.

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