When discussing the erotica genre in film, it is impossible to abandon the session kept aside for the conference of Sylvia Kristel as both an actress and a person. Coming to prominence in 1974 with her breakout role as Emmanuelle in the French soft-core classic titled likewise, Dutch-born Kristel started off as a model before entering the world of cinema. ‘Emmanuelle’ changed film history upon release, being the highest grossing French film at the time as well as the most widely seen X-rated picture in circulation. During my research of her filmography, I was surprised to discover the sheer artistic beauty present in a good number of her movies, whether they were erotic or not.
The pictures she appeared in bar the one’s part of the ‘Emmanuelle’ franchise have unfortunately lost their grip on the world, and I think it is of the utmost importance that they be talked about, if only out of fear that we may lose some features that really challenged the medium. Kristel’s career is one of great interest to me as well, because while going through the years, it is clear that her talents as an actress (of which she possessed a whole lot) were never truly recognized, and she was slowly losing her status as a sex symbol with which she started off her journey in film. Her passing in 2012 led to the movies losing one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen. Here is the list of top movies of Sylvia Kristel, which cover the erotica (particularly sexploitation comedies and dramas), horror, and romance genres.
1. Alice or the Last Escapade (1977)
A departure from their careers thus far for both Sylvia Kristel and director Claude Chabrol, ‘Alice or the Last Escapede’ is a lowly gem of cinema that, if seen with the same analytic eyes that are evaluating the artistic merits of one of Tarkovsky’s works, would be lauded with praise. Amply deserving such glory given its unnecessarily long stay in the dumps, the film is an ambient piece of work that supports its idiosyncratic plot with an atmospheric, shadowy visual style. At first glance seemingly something taken right out of the most ancient of horror novels, Chabrol’s careful traversing of his spooky locations offer something new for the books. Kristel plays a role that would make it look as though she was long past her days of being an erotic film actress, although the fact is that she was only beginning to build up her oeuvre as one. Distinctively atmospheric and surreal with its story that sought to bring about a seclusive feeling of loneliness and despair, this is one fantasy masterwork that I hope finds its audience and popularity one day in the near future.
2. Emmanuelle II (1975)
If the purpose of a film that falls into the erotica genre is to excite, then ‘Emmanuelle II’ may very well be the greatest of the lot. Without addressing the abundance of nudity present throughout the film, practically every element that comprises any given scene in the ninety minute run-time is consciously placed so as to bring about a sense of stimulation. The music composed by Francis Lai blunts every other piece of sound in the moments where it is given necessary distinction and revels in its own slow, hypnotic, meditative pace. Going along with the music, character movement is slowed down, made repetitive, and discernible. Making up for its lack of plot and sense of morale, the film gloats over its strange universe that appears to be but a mockery of ours, containing a complete supply of men and women living with no other purpose than to make love. The saving grace is that it is all so beautiful, so memorable, that it works as a sedative, numbing your mind, your thoughts, and your critical sense of thinking.
3. The Streetwalker (1976)
It’s quite unfortunate that this picture didn’t perform as well as it could have solely due to the way it was marketed. With the alternative title of ‘Emmanuelle ’77’, fans of the immensely popular and culturally relevant series immediately thought of it to be another movie that had its strings pulled on skin and pleasure. While one cannot deny that the film is about these things, there is a province of cinematic excellence that differentiates it from another one of those soft-core flicks. It is a feature that rightfully reserves its place in the erotic genre, but it stems from true art-house roots. Walerian Borowczyk, the man behind the camera, films it in a way that might garner arguments over its striking similarity to ‘Emmanuelle II’, but the latter had no story forming its base, despite it being the better film. This is one of the relatively few X-rated pictures that portray an original and contemplative story, receiving the little praise it did during its release for the its soporific nature in telling the poignant tale it did rather than for its excessive nudity and explicit portrayal of sexual acts. This was truly erotica with class.
4. Private Lessons (1981)
Out of all the films that Kristel played a role in, it’s ‘Private Lessons’ that attracts the most attention for just being fun. It is, in a lot of ways, completely stupid in trying to pull of its highly unlikely story of a financially well-off boy’s romantic relationship with the sexually open French maid his father hires to work at their home. The film successfully attempts to tease its audience by pulling them into its outrageous plot, bringing them a little closer to the campy ride that they hence experience. Garlanded with tongue-in-cheek dialogues and hokey acting, ‘Private Lessons’ pulls itself back on its feet with its essence of self-awareness. The fact that both the filmmakers and the audience are laughing about just how bonkers this picture is what makes it all the more enjoyable. Surprisingly enough, the picture has a twist ending that I did not see coming. When it did, I loved the film even more. There is no doubting the B-movie that this is. It’s cheap, corny, awkward, ridiculous, and seemingly unintelligent, but there lies its victory. ‘Private Lessons’ is a very enjoyable watch, though the picture is heavily flawed.
5. Emmanuelle (1974)
Kristel was very lucky to star in one of the most revolutionary pictures to ever come out in a mainstream theater in her prime. Advertised with the tagline ‘X was never like this.’, ‘Emmanuelle’ did not have any reason to lie. Adapted from a popular novel of the same name, the film based its entire existence on lauding and celebrating the act of sex, with characters that plainly couldn’t stop talking about it, thinking about it, and doing it. The filler in between happens to be a story set in Bangkok about a woman and her husband’s open marriage and romance. Famed critic Roger Ebert awarded this film 3 out of 4 stars and thought of it as a sort of different soft-core feature, one that didn’t care too much about itself and exploited everything that was in its reach. Just Jaeckin’s approach towards his subjects is through this soothing, respiratory style that he has since become well-known for. Partly due to this, the utter stupidity of the plot (in retrospect) is never felt when watching the movie, because it seems to be so darn sure of itself, and that’s a level of confidence that I can see myself admiring.
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6. Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981)
Just Jaeckin, the man behind Sylvia Kristel’s most financially successful feature ‘Emmanuelle’ served as director of this adaptation of the DH Lawrence novel, but in the process or transforming it converted the story into an erotic fantasy of sorts. This film is a low budget, tremendously low quality feature with bragging rights over only its beautiful actress and director’s strangely inviting style. Alas, as amusing as it may seem to viewers on a first watch, its confused editing that darts all over the place quickly takes one out of the atmosphere. The film is strong in its depiction of nudity and sex, with willing cast members unafraid to show a lot of skin for a long period of time. The cinematography is the other point worth praising this picture for, because the way it has captured nature is indeed something else. To judge whether this is a faithful adaptation of the source material isn’t up to me, but I do think it’s interesting, the way they went about adapting an extremely loved and appreciated literary creation.
7. The Nude Bomb (1980)
‘The Nude Bomb’ is more or less an attempt at recreating the plot, style, and magic of the 1960s television program ‘Get Smart’. It has a bit of a plot that has to do with a man who wishes to create a bomb, the carrying out of which would render the people in the whole world nude. It’s a lot of nonsense-humor, and like ‘Private Lessons’ (anoother Kristel-starrer) this film delivers a lot of humor that grows out of it’s absolutely insane concept of a story. ‘Police Academy’ is the film I’d compare this one to, at least in terms of style. There is no moment given for a joke to sink in, or an event to be fully expressed. The film isn’t one of the best comedies I have seen, and it isn’t even that good a comedy. Where it gets its major points from is its breezy, cool, uncaring attitude. Sylvia Kristel is in a role that is of prominence but isn’t exactly memorable here. The film fails to deliver as a whole, as it isn’t fully entertaining. If you are willing to be patient and let the uninteresting moments pass by, you’ll find a fairly entertaining flick in sight. This is the type of movie I’d watch when I have a lot of friends over, and possibly beer.
8. Mysteries (1978)
Sylvia Kristel’s role here is one of her least prominent from her early years in Dutch cinema. That isn’t to say the character doesn’t have some importance of her own, but she’s more a fantasy of a man, who just so happens to feel the same way about another woman as well. The film is led by a wealthy traveler who befriends the town midget, a man subject to unjust ridicule. He is also caught in the aforementioned web of love, one target being the beautiful yet high-handed Dany Kielland (Kristel). What surprised me is while, yet again, the film places emphasis on its nude content, it’s actually Kristel’s astounding performance as an actress that shines through. Now, as a whole, this picture doesn’t work all too well, what with its unnecessarily slow pacing and under-evaluation of characters. Rutger Hauer’s acting tends to come out on the disappointing side, which, given his significance as the lead, doesn’t give the film any added merit. David Rappaport, who plays the midget, probably gives the best acting in this rather enjoyable film.
9. Mata Hari (1985)
‘Mata Hari’ is the kind of film that gets bogged down due to all the terrible work done by the cast and crew members surrounding the time of its release. That’s not to say it’s great, or even good necessarily, but I am going to put forth my beliefs on this being way too underrated in today’s world. A soft core film (that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore) taking place amidst the Second World War, it focuses on an unafraid, sensual, seductive, and notorious dancer with a figure that attracts high ranking politicians, military officers, millionaires, and other influential types. The film contains some of the best shot moments in any Kristel film ever, probably only second to those in the ‘Emmanuelle’ trilogy. Now, the aforementioned dancer’s secret life as a spy leads us through the interesting second half of the film. Sadly, like many pictures that were coming at the time, this wasn’t one of the best acted (and that goes to our actress in question here as well) nor was it one of the well directed films of the year. In fact, it performed rather terribly in those aspects.
10. Goodbye Emmanuelle (1984)
The last film in the ‘Emmanuelle’ follows a story that isn’t like the ones in her previous adventures. Here, she is finally looking to move past the unbelievably open marriage she is a counterpart of after getting bored with her husband (something totally unforeseen for a character like her) and finding beauty in being desired by and falling for a film director she happens to meet by accident (from a distance, while having sex with someone else). This picture is flawed, like all the ‘Emmanuelle’ films are. It doesn’t have Pierre Bachelet composing its songs and Francis Lai on music. It has the same well-done performances from the leads, but it lacks the cinematographic beauty of the predecessors, opting to instead look and feel more like a promotion tool for Seychelles (which isn’t that bad a thing, because there exist only a few places as beautiful as the one this is set in). It is bittersweet and surprisingly emotional end to the journey we have with the pretty lady, and her trip down several relationships to finally land one that hopefully stayed committed long after the film ended.
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