“Emmanuelle” is a benchmark in adult mainstream cinema. Mainstream, because it managed to take advantage of France's more open and liberal censor board, and break the taboo where a film aimed at the 18+ crowd was straight pornography. Even in the U.S.A., distributor Columbia Pictures designed their campaign to showcase the film as a step forward in liberal cinema, touting “Emmanuelle” as “X Was Never Like This.”
In the informative featurette, “The Joys of Emmanuelle Part 1,” producer Yves Rousset-Rouard admits to being surprised that Canadians flocked to cinemas to see “Emmanuelle” in the middle of a cold winter. (Not that such a thing is unique. If it's –25 and snowy, only a fool would pass up the chance to see hot and bothered pretty people in the tropical land of Thailand. I mean, really.)
A great deal of luck befell the film's producer in acquiring the book's rights. Certainly a major plus was engaging established commercial photographer Just Jaekin. Though he had never directed a motion picture before, Jaekin's pictorial style suited the producer's desire to make a classy erotic film without hardcore porn, and the soft focus lensing – rather typical of the time – works for the film (though Jaekin took it even further in his next film, “The Story of O”).
Kristel herself was plucked from Holland to begin a new career in the movies, and while candid in the featurette, the DVD's informative bio sketch fills in some gaps.
A nice transfer, “Emmanuelle” will surprise viewers who've assumed the film to be porno chic. Its success owes a measure of credit to the ground already broken by “The Last Tango In Paris” – proving nudity and frank talk had a place in an adult drama. The featurette's collected interviews also show why “Emmanuelle” was unique for the time: before “Deep Throat” and its voguish companions, “Emmanuelle” was an outlet for couples to see sex in the pre-VHS and cable TV days that guaranteed a lot more privacy.
Both the film's producer and star were quiet surprised to hear that not only couples, but women were flocking to the X-branded show. There's a better balance between male and female nudity in the first film, and Jaekin's own tastes ensured the lens wouldn't stray into monstrous crotch shots. His camera lingers on meditative faces, and bodies are elegantly layered across the modest widescreen ratio. (There is a rape scene towards the end, though, which Kristel cites as her main displeasure in what's an otherwise acceptable film. A sequence in a brothel, with naked dancers and puffing cigarette trick, was not sanctioned by the director, and those more vulgar images were captured by cinematographer Richard Suzuki.)
The film's original French mono mix is actually quite good. It seems there was a deliberate ploy to keep dialogue at lower levels, and when Pierre Bachelet's score pumps into action, the music's loud and bass-friendly.
The simplistic trailer is rather surprising for such a controversial flick: instead of showing lurid money shots, it's informative text, punctuated with a slow zoom-out from Francis Giacobetti's famous portrait of seated Kristel in radiant décolletage. The huge still gallery adds some marvelous portraits taken for a French photo magazine, plus the diverse video covers (including a RCA CED disc) that ensured the film's popularity around the world.
This title is available in "The Emmanuelle Collection" boxed set (DV12157), with "Emmanuelle," "Emmanuelle 2," and "Good-bye Emmanuelle," and an 8-page colour booklet, featuring an essay by Gary Hertz.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan