On Monday evening @JillyBoyd and I watched Emmanuelle together in bed. Sounds sexy, right?
Emmanuelle reminds me of many things, but I've only ever actually seen it once before (barring a few short scenes which I own in MPEG format). The most famous scene (insofar as it's the one used whenever the film is referenced on TV) is the swimming pool one, filmed underwater, where we get a look at Sylvia Kristel's body. But a couple of things I noticed which I didn't, for some pretty obvious reasons, when I first watched the film at the age of 15.
The first is that a lot of the earlier Emmanuelle films are referenced here and there in the later ones - and I think deliberately, as well. The first sex scene in the film is shot through shimmering gauze; this is done again in one of the Emmanuelle in Space films a few decades later. Wicker chairs make their appearance - something of a recurring motif. If sex is about to happen, there's usually a brief cutaway to something mundane happening beforehand - again, done later. And there's a squash game, something which again happens in EIS. Plus a masturbation scene practically mirrored again in EIS.
I may be over-analysing here, but I think there are too many things for a few sneaky references in the later films not to be intentional. (There are even some things that happen in all the earlier films, too - Goodbye Emmanuelle ends on a repeated freeze-frame, as does this.)
One more striking thing about this film is how really really dark it is. I'm really surprised it actually got through the censors in some places. There's nothing over the line too much, but a lot of the sex scenes are violent and - in many cases - feature non-consensual sex, at times verging on rape and, in one case, actually being full rape. The third act of the film (in which Emmanuelle experiences a sexual awakening with new lover Mario) contains a lot of things which aren't exactly BD/SM, but are clearly distressing for the heroine... and the viewer.
And then there's the characters. A lot of them - in fact, all the supporting cast (including Emmanuelle's husband Jean, pretty girl Marie-Ange, expatriate Ariane and archaeologist Bee) - seem to have dark ulterior motives, leaving no particular character you can actually root for.
I get the whole idea of a new sexual experience being unsettling, but this seems too intended to shock, or at least rattle a few bones, especially considering the eponymous heroine is introduced as a young lady who enjoys making love so much - making me wonder why they had to put too much of an emphasis on taking her out of her comfort zone. It is, after all, meant to be a soft porn film - not sexploitation or film noir. And, unlike a lot of more recent softcore, it isn't aiming to turn you on. Or if it is, it's not working, really.
I know it's a classic... I also know why: it was successful. But I'm not entirely sure why it was successful. It's shot well, the acting is good and the dialogue (terrible English dub aside; there wasn't an option to watch it in the original French on the DVD) isn't too bad, but it's really quite dark and disturbing, and in my opinion that's not what soft porn should be!
I enjoyed it more than the lesbian hardcore we watched last night, though... but that's another story...!