Emmanuelle is a model who travels to Bangkok with her older husband, Jean. The two are very open in their relationship and are pretty casual when the other has an extra-marital affair. Emmanuelle is much more innocent than her husband, while he wants her to explore more and to have freedom to do whatever it is that would make her happy. This leads to many encounters with a number of people, male and female, who teaches Emmanuelle the lessons of love.
“The couple should be outlawed and a third person introduced by force.”
Emmanuelle was the first widely released X-Rated movie that dealt solely with sex. Before Emmanuelle, most X-Rated films were more artistic fare such as A Clockwork Orange, Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris. Following more in the footsteps of the pornographic Deep Throat, Emmanuelle toned down the sex and instead focused on the eroticism that allowed it to be released in mainstream theaters, not just porno theaters. The movie became very popular in its home country of France, due mainly to the fact that it was banned there. However, unlike the hardcore sex of the time, Emmanuelle seemed to be trying to achieve a more artistic endeavor.
To achieve this, the producers hired an artist to direct the movie. Just Jaeckin had made a name for himself with his photography work in such publications as Vogue and Harpers as well as his work as a sculptor. Jaeckin said he wanted to do the first erotic film with talent. What resulted was a film that looks so much better than a movie of its type deserved. The scenes were shot in a way that did not just expose the female body but gave small glimpses at it that really made the film more erotic than exploitive. The scenes that did push the boundaries were done in a way that was more artistic than showy, such as the popular scene where the woman places the cigarette in her vagina and allows it to inhale and exhale the smoke. These scenes are few and far between as the film prefers to be more influenced by magazine centerfolds than hard core porn. You are more likely to see a woman raise her skirt and adjust her garter, only giving a glimpse of thighs. This is the type of film Jaeckin wanted to make.
The main aspect of the script deals with the sexual liberation of Emmanuelle. Sylvia Kristel was perfectly cast as the titular character of the film. With an almost innocent look about her, she was the exact opposite of what you would expect in this genre of film. Her eyes almost show a purity and innocence, and with those traits, we are able to go with Emmanuelle as she learns about sex through a number of different incidents. Her older husband freely admits that he does not want her to be restrained and wants her to be free to do what she wishes. Both are very forgiving in matters of infidelity and both have a number of sexual encounters with males and females along the way.
It is Emmanuelle who receives the lessons of love, first from a promiscuous young girl who begins masturbating in front of Emmanuelle, shocking and titillating her at the same time. Once again, the style of shooting simply shows the hand going down into the shorts and then focuses on the face of the voyeur and the movements of the girl. It is once again the hint of what is happening, while what they do not show is quite possibly more erotic than what they could have shown. We move on to Emmanuelle becoming smitten with an older woman who shuns her after their sexual encounter. It is not because she does not care for Emmanuelle, but because Emmanuelle mistakes lust for love. The look of hurt in Emmanuelle’s face following this encounter pounds home the fact that she truly does not understand the world she has fallen into.
The final encounter with an older man named Mario is where Emmanuelle receives her final lessons of love. At first she is repulsed by him, calling him a pathetic Don Juan, only seeing him by his age, but soon she learns that with age comes experience and knowledge. It is at this point that she receives sagely advice from the older man. The advice is ludicrous and quite silly at times but it is given with such determination and wisdom by actor Alain Cuny (La Dolce Vita) that it seems to be almost mystic. I remember a quote by Alec Guinness about how ridiculous his dialogue was for Star Wars, yet when you watch him deliver it, it seems to be very wise and intelligent. It is a compliment to an actor to make such dreadful dialogue seem so important and intriguing.
Since the release of the movie, there have been many imitators that have never quite reached the level of the original. Look at Cinemax on any given night and you will see a number of skin flicks, yet they all are either shot with very poor, low budget effects or are filled with bad acting. What Emmanuelle did in 1974 was set the bar so high that it was impossible for the low budget production companies to reach the level of success that it achieved. Even when Paul Verhoeven tried his hand at the X-Rated sex movie in Showgirls, it failed by not reaching the high levels that made Emmanuelle a success. While Emmanuelle went for the tease to create eroticism, Verhoeven went straight for shock. While Jaeckin did not show everything, Verhoeven threw every piece of the female body onto the screen for your viewing pleasure. Emmanuelle is a much more pleasurable and erotic movie than anything Showgirls ever came close to achieving.
There are a number of reasons why Emmanuelle should not have succeeded. The story is of a woman’s search for sexual liberation but when she finally finds it, you are underwhelmed at the conviction of the advice she is given. However, there are so many things that make it work as well. Emmanuelle is not the best looking woman in the picture, but that makes her even more desirable to the viewer. She is more accessible to the viewer than a knockout, and Kristel brings the movie up to a much higher level. The look is amazing and the story was strong enough to spawn over thirty sequels since its original release. Emmanuelle has earned the respect it deserves over the years as a landmark in the history of X-Rated films.
The movie looks and sounds great, presented in a 16×9 widescreen with the original French stereo audio. There are subtitles in English and Spanish as well. There is also an English dubbed track that honestly brutalizes the script. If you listen to the dubbing with the subtitles on, you really see how bad the lines are dubbed. Don’t even think about just listening to the dubbed version.
The packaging is really nice, secured in a slim slipcase. It is a really sharp, slick looking package.
There are two featurettes, one over the making-of Emmanuelle and the second, Soft Sell: Emmanuelle in America, deals with the release of the movie. Both are pretty informative with interviews from practically everyone involved. The Making-Of is close to an hour long and Soft Sell is almost thirty minutes, both worthy additions to the DVD. After watching them, you can really appreciate what went into making Emmanuelle the classic that it has become.