Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel) is the new and inexperienced wife of French diplomat in Bangkok Jean (Daniel Sarky), and he and his friend are in a massage parlour discussing her. Emmanuelle is all ready to enter into a new world of sensual pleasure. Jean drives her to their new home, a large mansion, and on the way they talk about her latest photo shoot as she is a model. Emmanuelle will attempt to find fulfilment in a non-heterosexual way herself...
In its day the most successful French film of all time, this tale of a young woman discovering herself was a headline-grabbing sensation, when sensuality in films had gone mainstream. Partly inspired by the success of Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris and the frankness that made it box office gold around the world, this was based on Emmanuelle Arsan's self-titled and notorious in France novel from the fifties which had previously been banned there. It also had the advantage of being nicely photographed to look as if the characters had recently stepped out of the pages of a glossy magazine or colour supplement.
All this lent the film its veneer of sophistication, which if you looked a little closer didn't really ring true. If we were to be grown up about it, the film told us, then we must be as liberated as Emmanuelle, although the last half hour, where she was given the guided tour by Mario (Alain Cuny), someone who was basically a dirty old man, left an uncomfortable feeling behind. That's because the story was a hypocritical one which presented its free-willed lead as finding herself in an almost spiritual sensual odyssey, supposedly empowering but actually yet another in a long line of exploited male fantasy figures.
In between the racy stuff there is a lot of jaded talk, all to make Emmanuelle's choices seem like the only reasonable path. She is encouraged by the other idle rich women in her group to have an affair, but the person who has really caught her eye is archaeologist Bee (Marika Green, aunt of future Bond Girl Eva Green). So Emmanuelle persuades her to travel with her to the Isle, figuratively speaking, yet purely for plot contrivances after a day of romping, Bee tells her that she can't continue their relationship due to not being in love with her. I guess you have to watch the sequels as this film doesn't so much draw to a conclusion than stop abruptly. Its golden-looking and languorously louche mood is the main advantage here, and it did make Sylvia Kristel the most famous Dutch actress of the seventies, but it's more of a softcore relic nowadays than anything else. Music by Pierre Bachelet.
Director: Just Jaeckin
Writers: Emmanuelle Arsan (novel), Jean-Louis Richard
Stars: Sylvia Kristel, Alain Cuny, Marika Green
Watch trailer online. Full movie 1974