Emmanuelle (1974) is the first installment in a series of French softcore pornography films directed by Just Jaeckin. The film's story is based on the novel Emmanuelle. The film stars Sylvia Kristel in the title role about a woman who takes a trip to Bangkok to enhance her sexual experience. The film was former photographer Just Jaeckin's debut feature film and was shot on location in Thailand and in France between 1973 and 1974.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Just Jaeckin|
|Produced by||Yves Rousset-Rouard|
|Written by||Jean-Louis Richard|
by Emmanuelle Arsan
|Music by||Pierre Bachelet|
|Edited by||Claudine Bouché|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$4 million (rentals) (US/Canada)
8,893,996 admissions (France)
Emmanuelle was received negatively by critics on its initial release and with a more mixed reception years later. On its initial release in France it was one of the highest grossing French films. The film was distributed by Columbia Pictures in the United States making it the first X-rated film released by the company. The film was popular in Europe, the United States and Asia and was followed-up in 1975 with Emmanuelle, The Joys of a Woman. Several other films influenced by Emmanuelle were released including the Italian series Black Emanuelle.
Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel) flies to Bangkok to meet her diplomat husband Jean (Daniel Sarky). He asks her if she had any other lovers while she was in Paris; she replies that she has not. After taking a nude swim, Emmanuelle is approached by a pretty young girl named Marie-Ange (Christine Boisson), who asks to meet Emmanuelle at her house. Marie-Ange arrives at the house and finds Emmanuelle sleeping, and takes advantage of the situation to feel her body. Emmanuelle wakes up and they go outside where Marie-Ange asks Emmanuelle if she has any photos of herself and Jean having sex. After Emmanuelle replies she does not, Marie-Ange takes a French magazine with a photo of actor Paul Newman and begins to masturbate in front of Emmanuelle. Emmanuelle confesses to Marie-Ange that while she did not cheat on her husband in Paris, she did have sex with two strangers on the flight over to Bangkok. Emmanuelle begins to masturbate as she recounts the tryst. At night, Emmanuelle tells Jean about Marie-Ange's younger girl's lack of shame, which leads to Jean encouraging her to pursue the friendship.
The next day at a party, Marie-Ange introduces Emmanuelle to one of her lovers, an older man named Mario (Alain Cuny). Emmanuelle sees a French archaeologist named Bee (Marika Green), who is outside of most of the expatriate circles and she strikes up a private conversation with Bee, to whom she hands a bracelet. After Emmanuelle's insistence, Bee asks her to meet her at the Watsai klong at 2 p.m. Emmanuelle meets Bee at the location but Bee is uninterested in Emmanuelle. She returns Emmanuelle's bracelet but she refuses to take it back. Undeterred, Emmanuelle gets on Bee's jeep as she is about to leave for the dig site. Meanwhile, Jean is angry that Emmanuelle has left without informing him and suspects that her squash partner Ariane (Jeanne Colletin) is behind it. On asking her, Ariane tells him that all she has to offer is consolation sex. After a horseback ride, Emmanuelle and Bee reach a waterfall site where they spend some time. Then they go to the dig site where Emmanuelle distracts Bee from her work. The two have sex, but afterwards Bee asks Emmanuelle to leave. Emmanuelle returns home in tears, feeling humiliated. Jean returns home and finds her. He tries to comfort her and suggests that she should take another lover.
The next day Emmanuelle and Ariane attempt to play squash but have an argument. Ariane is jealous that Emmanuelle ran off with Bee, as she had hoped to be Emmanuelle's first female lover, while Emmanuelle is displeased at Ariane for having sex with Jean. Their argument leads to Emmanuelle to meet with Mario, stating that at his age, making love becomes so difficult that any man capable of it must be an artist. After consulting with Jean, Emmanuelle resigns herself to a meeting with Mario for dinner. Mario tells Emmanuelle that monogamy will soon die out and that she must learn to let lust, rather than guilt or reason, guide her when it comes to sex, which will lead her to greater levels of pleasure. To instill this lesson, Mario takes her to an opium den, where she is raped by one of the denizens while he watches. Mario then takes Emmanuelle to a boxing ring, where he talks two young men into fighting each other for the right to have sex with her. Mario tells Emmanuelle to choose one of the men as her favorite. After the match, her chosen champion prevails and she is so aroused by his willingness to fight for her that she licks the blood from a wound on his forehead and then allows him to have sex with her.
Later, Emmanuelle is awakened by Mario, who tells her to change into a dress with a zipper down the back, allowing Mario to strip her instantly for her next sexual encounter. Emmanuelle protests that she is tired and asks Mario if he himself will ever have sex with her. Mario replies that he is waiting for the "next Emmanuelle". The film ends with Emmanuelle sitting at a mirror and applying makeup, hoping that by following Mario's instructions, she will reach the higher levels of pleasure that he has promised.
Due to the success of the film of Last Tango in Paris which contained explicit sexual scenes and rise of interest in hardcore pornography, producers became aware of an audience that were willing to watch adult films. Producer Yves Rousset-Rouard obtained the rights to Emmanuelle in 1972. Emmanuelle was not the first adaptation of the novel of the same name. The first was an adaptation made in the late 1960s from producer Pierre Thron which was less explicit than the original novel. Rousset-Rouard offered the film to artist and photographer Just Jaeckin, who had never directed a feature film previously. After reading the novel, Jaeckin felt daunted by the film's subject matter and agreed with Rousset-Rouard to make what he described as "something soft and beautiful with a nice story" Casting sessions were held throughout Europe to find the right actress to play the leading role. Sylvia Kristel auditioned for the film in clothing with a simple tie up string that came off during the interview accidentally as Kristel continued to take interview questions as if nothing had happened. After taking some nude photographs of Kristel, Jaeckin hired her for the role of Emmanuelle.
Emmanuelle was shot between December 10, 1973 and February 6, 1974. The film was shot on location in Thailand while interior shots were done in Paris, France. Kristel found it very difficult to film the scene involving Emmanuelle being raped by two men in an opium den in Bangkok. Kristel stated that she "couldn't see how a rape would be pleasurable. These two Thai people were not actors. I really had to fight for my life there." The scene was filmed in one take using several cameras. Jaeckin has denied directing the scene that involves a young woman in a Thai bar who smokes a cigarette out of her vagina. Just Jaeckin states he first saw that scene when viewing the film in a theater.
The soundtrack to Emmanuelle was composed by Pierre Bachelet. The online music database AllMusic described the soundtrack to Emmanuelle as "both more sophisticated and more banal than your average stroke-film soundtrack" as well as stating that "the composers strive for a complexity and intimacy largely absent from the genre". The review compared pieces of the music anticipating the music of British musician Brian Eno's ambient music. The soundtrack employs synthesizers and acoustic guitar. The music featured during Kristel's erotic scenes is a series of variations on Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part Two by King Crimson.[self-published source?][discuss]
In the United Kingdom, Emmanuelle was the first adult film to play in regular British theaters after receiving extensive BBFC cuts to most of the sex scenes. For its initial video release in 1990 the scene in the bar where a woman smokes a cigarette from her vagina and the scene where the character Mario encourages the rape of Emmanuelle were cut. These edits were eventually waived for the 2007 Optimum DVD release.
Emmanuelle was distributed in the United States by Columbia Pictures and was their first X rated film. Columbia agreed to distribute the film after learning that the audience seen in line for Emmanuelle was mostly women. The advertising for the film took a highbrow approach to marketing the film opposed to focusing on its exploitative nature. Columbia's president David Begelman and former Young & Rubicam president Steve Frankfurt developed the tagline for the film "X was never like this." This tagline was developed to give the audience an ambiguous reaction suggesting that the film was either more graphic than other X-rated films or more sophisticated and artistic. Jay Cocks described its promotion in Time, stating "No exclusive linage in the sex sheets, no adhesive stickers for the walls of public toilets. Emmanuelle is being hyped as a classier breed of porn." The film earned enough money for Columbia to help them recoup from their losses after the box office failure of Lost Horizon in 1973.
The film received generally negative reviews from American critics on its initial release. Variety described Jaeckin's direction as "a bit pompous" and that outside Alain Cuny, the "acting is a bit self-conscious." Roger Ebert was one of the few American critics who gave the film a positive review. Ebert stated that "in terms of its genre (softcore skin flick), it's very well done: lushly photographed on location in Thailand, filled with attractive and intriguing people, and scored with brittle, teasing music. Now that hardcore porno has become passe, it's a relief to see a movie that drops the gynecology and returns to a certain amount of sexy sophistication." The Monthly Film Bulletin described the film as "lacking both in spirit and eroticism, while celebrating all the fashion textures of sun-on-skin and producing a series of advertisements for what can only be described as 2-D sex."
Later reviews had mixed opinions. PopMatters gave the film a seven out of ten rating, describing it as holding "up as not just an erotic classic, but a cinematic classic, period." The A.V. Club gave the film a "C" rating, stating that "it remains easy to get seduced by the film's slightly druggy, brainless sexiness" but that the film's subtext has not aged well, noting that the "film makes a lot of noise about 'sexual freedom' — the climactic scene in which the locals gang-rape Kristel while Cuny's silver-haired lech looks on — the question arises of just whose fantasy this is...and who's supposed to be freed by it." TV Guide gave the film two and a half stars out of four, finding that the film took itself too seriously but that it was still a "relatively well-made picture." Empire gave the film three stars out of five, noting that "Sylvia Kristel gives the essential take on the character, adding a sweetness and innocence, actually giving the traces of a performance" between the sex scenes. Total Film awarded the film three stars out of five, finding its "theme of sensual discovery chimed with the feisty zeitgeist," and "the rest of the film is daft, camp, over-oiled and dubbed to death, and yet... it's still a thrill."
In France, feminist viewers complained that the character of Emmanuelle was "an object of male fantasies." In a review from 1974, Variety opined that Emmanuelle was "more a come-on for the civil service than for femme lib."
Film historian Danny Shipka wrote that "In Asia, many women saw it as a liberating piece focusing on the power and strength of Emmanuelle and not her exploitation." Sylvia Kristel stated that "Japanese feminists were rather delighted with the film because they thought Emmanuelle was dominant, just because of this one scene where she climbs on top of her husband. That was the moment when all the Japanese women stood up and applauded."
Emmanuelle was followed up with a sequel titled Emmanuelle, The Joys of a Woman in 1975. Not wanting to be the director for the series, Just Jaeckin suggested his friend, fashion photographer Francis Giacobetti, direct the film. Sylvia Kristel reprised her role of Emmanuelle in the second film and the 1977 film Goodbye Emmanuelle.
Italian film producers wanted to capitalize on the international popularity of Emmanuelle by making a similar product that could be made cheaply. To work around copyright rules, these producers altered their spelling of Emmanuelle to create their series Black Emanuelle, starring Laura Gemser. In Japan, the film popularized the phrase "emanieru suru," which directly translates to "to do Emmanuelle," meaning "to have a casual and extravagant love affair."
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