Nudity and sex in film both have a very long history, almost as long as that of film itself. Artists have used the two time and time again to express creative freedom in their works and tell their stories in line with their vision. It has also been used as a device to push the boundaries of film-making and to see how far it could go in terms of what was allowed to be portrayed on screen. In 1968, after the removal of the (very controversial) Hays Code that restricted films from showing certain content, there was a substantial increase in pictures with sexual and non-sexual nude scenes, both within the United States of America and internationally. Skin-flicks, sexploitation movies, and soft-core pictures started to attract viewers in drive-in theaters as well as grindhouse screenings. As nudity became commonplace in cinema, a couple of these films even received wide releases from major studios.
Columbia Pictures released its first X rated movie in the form of ‘Emmanuelle’ (1974), a French soft-core flick that went on to become very successful commercially (an all time box office hit in France that year), but received mostly negative reviews from critics. One of the film’s biggest supporters was Roger Ebert (the film critic) though, who gave it a 3 out of 4 star rating and called it a “silly, classy, enjoyable erotic film”. That’s pretty much all it was, and part of the reason it got so popular was its smart promotional tools. I mean, who wouldn’t fall for a film that bared the tagline “X was never like this”? The film had a somniferous score composed by Pierre Bachelet that was called “sophisticated and more banal than your average stroke-film soundtrack”. I’d take it further and call the theme song to the film one of the best musical productions in history, because even though I haven’t ever looked for the meaning of the lyrics, I understand the message perfectly from just the way it sounds.
As most successful films give birth to a sequel, ‘Emmanuelle’ followed the same route. It was titled ‘Emmanuelle: the Joys of a Woman’ (1975) or ‘Emmanuelle II’ for short. Once again starring the beautiful Dutch model and actress Sylvia Kristel as the title character, the film fared well at the box office like its predecessor did. It was, yet again, critically panned, and not even Roger Ebert stood by this one. In his one star review, he was of the opinion that the film had no point and that it was boring. I have seen both pictures, and although I can understand what might have evoked such a reaction from him as well as the many others who didn’t enjoy it back in 1975, I strongly disagree with them to such an extent that not only do I think of it as the best movie in the ‘Emmanuelle’ series (that contained 7 features in total), I consider it to be the greatest film ever made in the ‘erotica’ genre.
‘Emmanuelle’ and ‘Emmanuelle II’ are connected to each other by a very thin string, in that you don’t need to watch one to get the next. Both films toy with the themes of love, passion, and sex. In ‘the Joys of a Woman’, our lead character takes a ship to Bangkok in order to meet with her husband, and the story follows the both of them as they take part in various sexual encounters – not necessarily with each other. They are in an ‘open marriage’, a term that is applied quite literally and exploited considerably well by most of the characters involved. The sheer confidence of this film makes it very sure (and kinda proud) of what it’s showing us. I felt, at least for a moment, that marriages of such an outrageous and unrealistic nature could exist. The concepts presented here don’t feel stupid due to the film’s integrity in and surety of its universe, and I find that very appreciable.
On the whole, ‘Emmanuelle II’ works like a piece of art, being subject to interpretation and all. Starting from Sylvia Kristel’s beautiful eyes shown in medium close ups of her face, so seductive, with some of the greatest music put to any film ever; (thanks to Francis Lai, the master who composed the acclaimed scores to ‘A Man and A Woman (1966)’, ‘Love Story (1970)’, and ‘Bilitis (1977)’) all the way up to the times it uses silence to bring out a sense of passion, the movie is able to distinguish itself from all other pictures that follow similar themes. The only film that I think is even remotely comparable to the aesthetic qualities of this one (in this specific genre) is ‘Histoire D’o’, which coincidentally came out in the same year. Viewers are bound to take note of the meticulous use of the colors blue and red in ‘Emmanuelle II’ – red to depict sexual activities taking place in the movie’s perception of reality, and blue to envelope the imaginary. Certainly this movie had a lot of thinking going into it, due to which it bursts with ideas and technical innovations throughout its runtime.
Before I get into the rest of the good stuff, I have to agree to the fact that it has terrible grade-z writing backing it up. The dialogues are very awkward and delivered at wrong times. Gladly, spoken words are minimal, and honestly, do you think the filmmakers really cared about the quality of the script when they conceived this?