Emmanuelle (1974)

The original soft-core French classic starring Sylvia Kristel, from director Just Jaeckin. Optimum UK R2 DVD release.

The Film

Emmanuelle is not the first erotic film, and not even the first Emmanuelle movie (an Italian film Io Emmanuelle (1969) took that honour) but over time has become one of the most famous and influencial, spawning an ever increasing selection of sequels and knock-offs, from British comedies to hardcore Italian exploitation films. However, Emmanuelle's reputation has outdone the film itself which is sadly a rather lazily plotted mix of sex and silly dialogue.

The young, newly married Emmanuelle travels out to Thailand to be with her husband, a French diplomat. She soon discovers that the pace of life for the married women over there is very sedate, and the morals are very lax. She is shocked when her husband tells her that he expects an open relationship and that although his wife, she does not belong to him. Soon taken under the wing of some of the older women, Emmanuelle begins to explore her sexuality with men and women...

The storyline is very basic, as summarised above - although this need not necessarily be a problem, many erotic films are actually let down by attempts to create an overly complex storyline that makes the sex seem tacked on. Unfortunately here there simply seems to be no motivation behind anything that happens, Emmanuelle's all important tryst with 'Bee' (that one of the characters bizarrely later calls a dream, despite not being filmed as such) is apparently motivated by her desire to find a go-getting woman, although she only meets her very briefly before deciding this. Meanwhile, the "education" of Emmanuelle by Mario and Marie-Ange seems to be heavily inspired by Philosophy in the Boudoir, a 18th Century French text by the infamous Marquis de Sade (filmed a few years previously by Jess Franco), although here de Sade's sadistic themes are replaced by an undefined notion of erotic freedom that is never really explained or detailed (the limits of eroticism seem to be having sex with a sweaty boxer) - as a theme it is further dampened when one recalls that Emmanuelle had sex with two men on a plane even before coming to Thailand and is obviously not really in need of such liberation. Many of the film's other "erotic" moments seem to be completely unnecessary, most notably the infamous scene in a Bangkok bar with some strippers performing, where one of the characters just happens to be passing through for no reason. Ultimately the film goes nowhere fast, and the ending might as well have had a to be continued note under it as it does little to wrap anything up.

Fortunately the direction, and production are strong and help to keep the film watchable, and considering the film's popularity over the years, were sucessful in distracting people from the storyline problems.
The production's French origins can clearly be seen in the casual nudity that predominates the film and director Just Jaeckin shows a good talent for making the sex scenes erotic yet tasteful (although he does trend towards the artistic side a little, especially compared to the film's sequels). The soundtrack is very fitting and the use of real Thai locations gives the film some authenticity.

The film marks the first major performance for Sylvia Kristel in the title role, a part she would play for the rest of her career, even into the 1990s as Old Emmanuelle. Attractive with a very European appearance, she never really looks very animated although it does seem in keeping with her rather bored character. Alain Cuny (La Dolce Vita (1960)) is the only major euro-cult actor in the cast as the educating Mario. The female supporting cast are rather older than one might expect in an erotic film, mostly in their late 20s or early 30s but it gives the film a good feeling of authenticity - the women have not just stepped out of the plastic surgeons.

Slow and langurious, without any attempts to be surreal or dreamlike Emmanuelle is simply dull in places and never manages to be quite as artistic or clever as it tries to be - its themes of sexual liberation have been filmed much better elsewhere, while the later Black Emanuelle films managed to be far more entertaining and enjoyable to watch - and more erotic to boot. Of course 
Emmanuelle remains a highly influencial film, and was key in altering censorship regulations in France and later across Europe, being the first sex film to play in conventional cinemas, to this extent I would recommend it to anyone interested in cinema history, especially of the more adult variety - but as a film in itself I would only partly recommend it.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Sylvia Kristel - would go on to star in a variety of sequels and similar erotic films.
Directed by anyone interesting? Just Jaeckin - a French director who later shot numerous erotic films including The Story of O (1975) and Gwendoline (1984).
Any gore/violence? Minimal.
Any sex? Numerous softcore sex scenes and female nude scenes including a relatively mild rape scene (previously cut in the UK). Generally directed in an artistic manner.
Who is it for?
Of historical interest to anyone interested in the evolution of cinema.

Similar Films

Inspired by:Philosophy in the Boudoir (1970) A well filmed adaptation of the famous work by the Marquis de Sade with a much better defined notion of sexual education, by Jess Franco and Harry Alan Towers and starring Christopher Lee.
Led to:Black Emanuelle Series (1975 - 1983)
The notorious Italian exploitation series derived from this original Emmanuelle film and eventually delved into gory violence and hardcore sex.
Of Interest:Morgana et ses Nymphs (1971)An obscure French fantasy erotica from the early 1970s that proves how a slow and langurious pace, when mixed with a dreamlike atmosphere, can actually be very effective.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
Picture quality is generally good and as filmed it is a little on the soft side throughout. No noticable print damage.
Audio English mono - sounds fine and the dubbing is decent.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • An interview piece with director Just Jaekin and the film's producer. Light hearted, it is very informative, from how they secured the rights, to the illegal filming and the film's reception. 30 minutes, in French with English subtitles.
  • Original French theatrical trailer. In French with English subtitles.
      Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
      Other regions? Previously available from Anchor Bay US, and in a cut UK disc, both are now out of print.
      Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The print used is French.



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      All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 29th March 2007.
      Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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