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(France - 1974)

Directed by Just Jaeckin. Written by Jean-Louis Richard. Cast: Alain Cuny, Sylvia Kristel, Marika Green, Daniel Sarky, Jeanne Colletin, Christine Boisson, Samantha, Gaby Brian, Gregory. (X, 94 mins)

Based on the scandalous 1959 novel by Emmanuelle Arsan that was long-rumored to be at least semi-autobiographical, 1974's controversial EMMANUELLE was a groundbreaking, X-rated deep-dive into post-LAST TANGO IN PARIS softcore erotica and it's likely that there never would've been a Skinemax without it. Focused on the intense sexual awakening of a beautiful and sexually-gifted but naive young woman, Emmanuelle was the first in a series of erotic novels by "Arsan," initially thought to be the pseudonym of French-Thai novelist Marayat Rollet-Andriane, an occasional actress who had a prominent supporting role as Richard Attenborough's love interest in the 1966 epic THE SAND PEBBLES, but the actual writer was later revealed to be her UNESCO diplomat husband Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane. The directing debut of French photographer Just Jaeckin, EMMANUELLE was a much-discussed sensation worldwide and made an international sex symbol of 22-year-old Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel, who would, for better or worse, be inextricably linked with the character for the rest of her career. As the film opens, Kristel's Emmanuelle is flying to Bangkok to visit her diplomat husband Jean (Daniel Sarky). They have an open marriage, though only Jean seems to take advantage of it and wishes his wife would indulge in similar exploits to share with him. Jean considers this the one negative aspect of his marriage to Emmanuelle, boasting to a colleague "I married her because no woman enjoys making love more, or does it better." Once in Bangkok, she's encouraged by other women, most of whom have slept with Jean, to explore her wild side, with young Marie-Ange (Christine Boisson) admonishing "He's only your husband...you have to take a lover if you want to be a real woman!" before masturbating in front of her to a magazine photo of a smiling Paul Newman.

Emmanuelle confesses that she had sex with two strangers on the flight from Paris to Bangkok, joining the mile-high club in the first-class cabin with a man across the aisle while others watched, then she was whisked away to the restroom by another man emboldened by her fearlessness. Jean has aggressive sex with Arianne (Jeanne Colletin), who also desires Emmanuelle, confronting her with "You're nude under your dress, aren't you...have you made love since I last saw you?" Emmanuelle is coveted by everyone, and she finds unexpected passion with archaeologist Bee (Marika Green, who has a noticeable resemblance to her actress niece Eva Green). Emmanuelle confesses her love for Bee, who likes her very much but politely rejects her. A heartbroken Emmanuelle is chastised by Ariane ("What I live for is pure enjoyment. Your violins, your hearts and flowers, your promises of eternal love make me sick"), who boasts of her fling with Jean in a country club locker room dialogue exchange that pretty much sums up Euro softcore porn in a nutshell:
Ariane: "You know, I made love with your husband."
Emmanuelle: "Yes, he mentioned it. How'd it go?"
Ariane: "I thought you knew, it was practically rape."
Emmanuelle: "Help me unhook my brassiere." 

As Jean grows jealous over Emmanuelle's sudden interest in taking advantage of the open marriage that was all his idea, it's Ariane who suggests that she visit Mario (Alain Cuny), an aging playboy and an expert in the ways of mature lovemaking. Mario is infatuated with Emmanuelle at first sight but refuses to make love to her, instead promising to take her to "the land of eroticism." This essentially involves a series of degrading activities that include being pawed by a vagrant, drugged in an opium den and gang-raped to pilfered King Crimson riffs, and then taken to an underground fight club where Mario promises Emmanuelle to the winner. He's really just a perv--and presumably impotent--who likes to watch, and it's the last third of EMMANUELLE that really becomes unpleasant to watch, and not just through the lens of 2019. I don't wish to sound like a representative of Woke Twitter, and I'm not advocating canceling EMMANUELLE 45 years after its release, but it's hard to imagine the Mario section of the film, with Emmanuelle experiencing her ultimate sexual awakening through one humiliation and degradation after another, being a turn-on to audiences or even a symbol of female empowerment, since it's all for Mario's pleasure. Even after this, Mario still doesn't sleep with Emmanuelle and moves on to his next subject, offering the kind of explanation where the only suitable response would be a kick in the balls: "I collect situations. I want to find the next Emmanuelle...through the looking glass!"

It's putting it mildly to say that EMMANUELLE hasn't aged well, but it obviously set the template for the countless European-made "sexual awakening of a young woman" films that came in its wake, such as Corinne Clery in THE STORY OF O (1975) and Dayle Haddon in THE FRENCH WOMAN (1977), both directed by Jaeckin; Patti D'Arbanville in BILITIS (1977); Olivia Pascal in VANESSA (1977); and Annie Belle in both ANNIE (1976) and LAURE (1976), the latter written and co-directed by the Rollet-Andrianes, and featured "Arsan" herself as the title character's sexual mentor (the film was released in the US in 1982 as FOREVER EMMANUELLE). EMMANUELLE itself spawned two sequels (all three films have just been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber) and was so popular that it was spoofed in the 1978 British comedy CARRY ON EMMANUELLE. But it's the BLACK EMANUELLE series (note the missing "M") with Laura Gemser that was the most successful of the knockoffs, and in many ways, surpasses the inspiration (and Gemser most closely resembles the real Arsan). Released in the US by Columbia with the attention-getting tag line "X was never like this," EMMANUELLE is insufferably pretentious, with the constant hot air blather of "making love" growing unintentionally funny very quickly. It really fancies itself as something chic, artistic, and profound, and the presence of top-billed Cuny (memorable in Federico Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA and FELLINI SATYRICON) certainly gives it an air of importance, though the respected actor was said to be difficult and later commented that he only took the role to show his contempt for modern cinema. It also exploits the exoticism of Thailand and the Far East, with a particularly memorable shot of a dancer using a certain orifice to smoke a cigarette that's exactly the kind of thing you think of when you hear "bar in Bangkok." But it's Kristel's film from beginning to end. She's lovely and has haunting eyes that hypnotize when she stares into the camera, and it's easy to see why EMMANUELLE catapulted her to fame, while at the same time leaving her hopelessly typecast.

EMMANUELLE opening in Toledo, OH on 2/27/1976

(France - 1975; US release 1976)

Directed by Francis Giacobetti. Written by Bob Elia. Cast: Sylvia Kristel, Umberto Orsini, Frederic Lagache, Catherine Rivet, Venantino Venantini, Caroline Laurence, Henry Czarniak, Tom Clark, Marion Womble, Florence Lafuma, Claire Richard, Laura Gemser, Eva Hamel, Christiane Gibelin, Sterling St. Jacques. (X, 91 mins)

With no shortage of "Emmanuelle Arsan" stories, and with EMMANUELLE being such a worldwide box-office smash (it opened in the US in December 1974 and moved across the country slowly, letting the notoriety continue to build, and it was still hitting first-run theaters in America well into 1976), a sequel was inevitable. Just Jaeckin passed on directing, not wishing to be associated strictly with EMMANUELLE, and instead made the similarly X-rated, S&M-themed THE STORY OF O and the brothel-set THE FRENCH WOMAN. Kristel returned for EMMANUELLE 2, better known by its eventual US title EMMANUELLE: THE JOYS OF A WOMAN, directed by a debuting Francis Giacobetti. It's a loose sequel, with a markedly more confident and assured Kristel playing what appears to be an Emmanuelle, if not the same Emmanuelle from the previous film, with Jean now either an engineer or an architect and played by Italian actor Umberto Orsini (THE DAMNED, VIOLENT CITY). The film opens with Emmanuelle boarding a ship to Hong Kong, where Jean is working, but a booking snafu forces her into a dormitory sleeping arrangement with some commoner women, which instantly leads to some girl-on-girl action between a now sexually-emboldened Emmanuelle and young traveler Ingrid (Caroline Laurence), who seduces Emmanuelle by confessing a violent gang-rape fantasy. Emmanuelle and Jean continue to have the most open marriage imaginable, with Jean practically salivating over her exploits. Jean is also providing room and board to a pilot named Christopher (Frederic Lagache), who sleeps with his propellor (?) and, of course, becomes a fantasy object for Emmanuelle, especially after he takes her to an acupuncturist and she masturbates to him with needles sticking out of her face. In Emmanuelle's absence, Jean has been sleeping with (or, in the parlance of EMMANUELLE, "making love to") Laura (Florenca Lafuma), the younger wife of aging diplomat Peter (Tom Clark). When she isn't fantasizing about Christopher or masquerading as a prostitute in a Hong Kong brothel and having sex with three men in a consensual re-enactment of Ingrid's rape fantasy, Emmanuelle becomes obsessed with Laura's virginal stepdaughter Anna Marie (Catherine Rivet). She eventually convinces the naive young girl (oooh...could she remind Emmanuelle of her younger self?) to partake in a threesome where Jean is only all too happy to deflower the young woman. You know, if that's what Emmanuelle wants and all...

Of course, that's after the film's most famous scene, a long massage sequence where Emmanuelle, Jean, and Anna Marie are given soapy, oily rubdowns and happy endings by a trio of masseuses, including one played by Indonesian actress Laura Gemser, who made such an impression in this one scene that she would immediately be cast in the Italian knockoff BLACK EMANUELLE, which led to her own series of films that lasted well into the 1980s. EMMANUELLE: THE JOYS OF A WOMAN understands first and foremost what drew audiences to EMMANUELLE and as such, it doesn't waste time with endless philosophizing about "making love" and instead just gets down to it. It's much closer in spirit to the Italian-made Gemser series, perhaps in part since it features Italian actors like Orsini and Eurocult regular Venantino Venantini (who would also appear in three of Gemser's BLACK EMANUELLEs), seen here as a tattooed polo player who gets fellated by Emmanuelle in a locker room before fisting her. EMMANUELLE: THE JOYS OF A WOMAN is often jawdropping in its brazen explicitness, rivaling the carnal content of any of Gemser's outings, so much so that even after being cut down to 84 minutes for its 1976 US release by Paramount (yes, Paramount), it still got handed an X rating. It wasn't quite as big of a hit as its predecessor, but it enjoyed a reasonably successful run as a midnight movie into the early 1980s. EMMANUELLE: THE JOYS OF A WOMAN is the best of the Kristel EMMANUELLEs by far (strangely, Giacobetti never made another movie), and Kino Lorber's Blu-ray offers the uncut 91-minute version, so plan accordingly..

Further evidence that things just used to be different: here's
at a goddamn mall in Toledo, OH on 6/16/1978

(France - 1977; US release 1981)

Directed by Francois Leterrier. Written by Monique Lange and Francois Leterrier. Cast: Sylvia Kristel, Umberto Orsini, Jean-Pierre Bouvier, Alexandra Stewart, Olga Georges-Picot, Charlotte Alexandra, Caroline Laurence, Sylvie Fennec, Radiah Frye, Jacques Doniol-Valcroize, Erik Colin, Jack Allen, Bob Asklof, Greg Germain, Patrick Victor. (R, 98 mins)

The EMMANUELLE series made Kristel an international star, though it limited her to largely similar roles in various Euro erotica outings ranging from artsy to commercial, including Alain Robbe-Grillet's PLAYING WITH FIRE (1975), Roger Vadim's GAME OF SEDUCTION (1976), and Walerian Borowczyk's THE STREETWALKER (1976). Kristel returned to her signature role for the final film in the original trilogy, 1977's GOODBYE EMMANUELLE, which reteamed her with Umberto Orsini as Jean but under the direction of a third helmer, this time Francois Leterrier, who had a minor hit in France with 1973's PRIVATE SCREENING, with Francoise Fabian, Jane Birkin, and Bulle Ogier. GOODBYE EMMANUELLE drastically tones down the "anything goes" titillation of its predecessor and desperately wants to be taken seriously like Jaeckin's original. It's got a very catchy theme song by Birkin and her husband, renowned French singer and composer Serge Gainsbourg, and its cast has more prestigious actors than usual, like Olga Georges-Picot (Alain Resnais' JE T'AIME, JE T'AIME, Fred Zinnemann's THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, Woody Allen's LOVE AND DEATH) and Canadian-born Alexandra Stewart (Francois Truffaut's THE BRIDE WORE BLACK and DAY FOR NIGHT, Louis Malle's BLACK MOON). But it gets everything about EMMANUELLE fundamentally wrong. The central premise has Emmanuelle, now traveling to the Seychelles, where Jean is (allegedly) working, but this time, she's growing tired of the sexual histrionics of their open marriage--of course, not before an opening threesome with Jean and local dressmaker Angelique (Radiah Frye). She even begins sympathizing with frigid Clara (Sylvie Fennac, a dead ringer for Dayle Haddon), who tried to play that game with her husband, Jean's friend Guillaume (Erik Colin), but just wasn't into it. Clara also blames Emmanuelle and Jean for Guillaume's sudden interest in pursuing an open marriage and his obsession with perfecting the art of "lovemaking," which is understandable since it's all anyone in these movies ever fucking talks about. Emmanuelle develops feelings for Gregory (Jean-Pierre Bouvier), a filmmaker scouting locations in the area, who doesn't believe in Jean's lifestyle philosophy and happens to catch Emmanuelle at the very moment she's been thinking the same thing, especially her growing disgust with how Jean and all of the expat swinger couples in their social circle pass eager, nubile young Chloe (Charlotte Alexandra) amongst themselves for their endless sexual pleasure. Though Jean loves nothing more than being turned on by Emmanuelle's stories of making love to other men, he soon grows jealous of Gregory and starts deliberately sabotaging her relationship with him, driving Emmanuelle to make the decision to abandon her sexually adventurous world and consider settling down with Gregory.

The less said about GOODBYE EMMANUELLE, the better. "Emmanuelle Goes Monogamous" might've seemed like a thought-provoking and even subversive idea on paper, but it's deadening in execution, unless you're a big fan of the endless "making love" philosophizing and highbrow poseurdom that constitute everything you fast-forwarded through in your teenage years in an impatient dash to get to "the good parts." The good parts are few and far between in the impossibly dull GOODBYE EMMANUELLE, and it must've been apparent to any potential US distributors. While EMMANUELLE was released by Columbia and EMMANUELLE: THE JOYS OF A WOMAN by Paramount, GOODBYE EMMANUELLE went unseen in America until it was picked up in 1981 by ambitious young concert promoter Harvey Weinstein, who was looking to get into the movie distribution game, thus earning the film its only claim to future notoriety by being the first release of the fledgling Miramax Films. It was so tame that it didn't even need any trimming for an R rating. And it was only given a spotty release, with Weinstein's acquisition likely due less to the fading brand recognition of the EMMANUELLE films (even Gemser's EMANUELLEs were being retooled as women-in-prison grinders like CAGED WOMAN and WOMEN'S PRISON MASSACRE) and more because Kristel, then in the midst of a short-lived run in Hollywood after 1979's THE CONCORDE: AIRPORT '79 and 1980's THE NUDE BOMB, was having a pretty good year in 1981, and here was one of her EMMANUELLE movies, sitting there unclaimed. 1981 saw Kristel reunite with Jaeckin for the future cable favorite LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER and she also enjoyed her biggest US success that same year with PRIVATE LESSONS. Like EMMANUELLE, PRIVATE LESSONS was another influential first centered on Kristel, in this case kickstarting a string of "horny, virginal teenage dweeb inexplicably gets seduced by his hot teacher" comedies (followed by the likes of HOMEWORK, MY TUTOR, and THEY'RE PLAYING WITH FIRE) that wouldn't have a chance in hell of being made today, much less being huge moneymakers at the box office, and, it bears mentioning, inspiring Van Halen's hit "Hot for Teacher."

But it's the success of PRIVATE LESSONS that was a blessing and a curse for Kristel. It finally gave her a non-EMMANUELLE hit, but a scheming agent talked her into signing her percentage profits over to him, so while the film was a smash hit, she barely made anything from it. Coupled with the collapse of her often volatile relationship with Ian McShane, who she met while making 1979's THE FIFTH MUSKETEER, and a worsening drug and alcohol problem (she was very open in later years about having a serious cocaine addiction in the late '70s and into the '80s), Kristel was quickly bottoming out personally and professionally. Out of desperation, she was lured back to the world of Emmanuelle for the 1984 Cannon reboot EMMANUELLE IV, which played like an erotic take on SECONDS, almost insulting then-32-year-old Kristel by having her Emmanuelle go through plastic surgery to emerge in a younger incarnation played by Mia Nygren. After that, Kristel was simply taking jobs for the money, from 1985's MATA HARI to the same year's German-made women-in-prison potboiler RED HEAT to a disastrous attempt to once again crack the American market with 1988's DRACULA'S WIDOW, which was caught up in the bankruptcy of DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group and ended up going straight to video. The increasingly dubious and decreasingly-budgeted  EMMANUELLE series continued without her, but Kristel was eventually reduced to starring in 1993's EMMANUELLE 7, which has the title character now running a virtual reality lab where people can fulfill their sexual fantasies. The same year, she appeared as "Old Emmanuelle" (Kristel was 41 at the time) in a series of French made-for-cable movies where she's featured in wraparound segments recounting her youthful sexploits to a new Mario (George Lazenby, of all people), with young Emmanuelle played by Venezuelan actress Marcella Walerstein. Kristel remained in Europe, working primarily in France, Italy, and her native Netherlands in obscure films and on TV, but her career never bounced back. While she successfully conquered her substance abuse issues, she spent the bulk of the '00s battling cancer, first in her throat, then spreading to her lungs, and she suffered a stroke shortly before her death in 2012 at just 60.

Sylvia Kristel (1952-2012)

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