The Girl Who Returned (1969)

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Do not take the score of 3 out of 4 as some sort of recommendation.  If you are not up to watching a slow, grainy 16mm film which was made for $2000, The Girl Who Returned  can seem interminable in spite of its 62 minute running time.  This is Lloyd Kaufman’s debut feature film but if you were expecting a precursor to Troma, you’re out of luck.  Actually I take that back; even in a nudity free, oddball student film, Kaufman still managed to squeeze in some sex.

But let’s start from the beginning.  I became a huge Troma fan around 1999 when I was an obnoxious teenager and, as I was engorging the standards like The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo and Juliet – and basically anything that was gory, horrific and exploitative – I never in my life imagined I’d get to see this film.  I thought it would be a forgotten relic, only mentioned as a learning experience in Lloyd Kaufman’s autobiography.  So thank you Youtube for existing.  It is fascinating to see this time capsule film; a grainy window into college life circa 1968.  That’s not what the film is about mind you, but, in some ways it can seem like a glorified home movie.  I know that’s an insulting statement so let me get to the review before I dig myself a bigger hole.

The Girl Who Returned begins with a group of college girls doing calisthenics on a football field while a male announcer informs the watcher that the Olympic games between Luxemburg and Mongolia will soon commence.  This is apparently code for the females and the males.  The two conflicting states hold Olympic games every four years to determine who is better.  The rest of the narration is taken up by a female and the actual plot concerns Lucy (Gretchen Herman) being trained by her coach, Geneva (Beverly Galley) to become the best runner or something.  Not very much happens until Lucy breaks free and goes to “Mongolia” in hopes of restoring a “golden age” between the two states.  When she meets some “Mongolians”, they mock her.  That is until she encounters a friendly one – a nice guy – and the two walk around, hold hands and eventually sleep together.  Don’t get any ideas!  The sex is presented tastefully.

Back in Luxemburg the Olympic games take place and well, I guess I shouldn’t spoil the whole film.  But basically there is some sort of vague message being sent about how the supposed “golden age” is as much of a chance occurrence as a one time pickup.  The point is that Kaufman pulls together some neat tricks in order to make you feel like you’re watching a narrative and not just a goofy collection of shots.  Indeed some scenes seem painfully long and if there wasn’t a narrator to string the plot together, it would make no sense.  Well, I don’t know…. maybe I should test that theory and watch it without the narrator.

The acting is about what you’d expect from a silent student film.  The actions are exaggerated but it’s not to the point of annoyance.  There also seem to be some lesbian overtones between Lucy and Geneva or maybe my perverted mind imagined that.  I dunno.  It’s a neat idea if not the most actively entertaining film in world.

Also, in true Tromatic sense, Kaufman’s artistic aspirations were a bit too ambitious; he attempted to make the film equivalent of John Cage’s use of silence by putting black screens between various shots which resulted in the film’s watchers complaining that the projector was malfunctioning.

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