Friday, May 15, 2015

The Sex Conference Convenes

It would be nice to think about and have sex all day. The vast majority of us don't have the luxury but we do have 1974's Emmanuelle, the first and most successful of a famous series of French erotic films. A massive box office success in France at the time of its release, the film not only has impressive production values for an erotic film but an extraordinary unselfconscious perspective on sex. It's for the most part a pleasant, mellow fantasy.

Mostly shot on location in Bangkok, the film follows the beautiful young Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel) who joins her diplomat husband, Jean (Daniel Sarky), in Thailand to live in an enormous, gorgeous home. A brief, frightening for Emmanuelle, encounter with beggars near the beginning is the only real sign of ugly reality in the film's depiction of the city but the film makes no apology for indulgence in fantasy. The point is to set up a hypothetical reality to enjoy and discuss sex.

Jean's extremely liberal outlook is slightly intimidating for Emmanuelle--he tells her she's not his property and encourages her to have sex with any man or woman she chooses. After sex with two men on the plane to Bangkok, she's still a little reluctant to indulge herself but starts to think she prefers women after a younger woman named Marie-Ange (Christine Boisson) abruptly begins to masturbate in front of Emmanuelle to a picture in a magazine.

Eventually, Emmanuelle finds herself pursuing an archaeologist named Bee who's notorious among the other women for reasons not explained--there seems to be a whole society of lazy, hedonistic and beautiful French women in Bangkok.

The final act of the film is somewhat enigmatic, seeing Emmanuelle meeting with Mario (Alain Cuny), an older man who can't stop talking about sex. As one of Emmanuelle's female lovers explains to her, young people have sex naturally, if a man of Mario's age is still making love, it's poetry.

Most of the thought expressed in the film works more as a prompt to get you to think about sex than it does as actual stimulating philosophy. Mario has a variety of maxims that almost seem to mean something but are really loops back to contemplating how nice it would be to have sex with beautiful people, things like, "Love is an erection, not an orgasm." Compared to the violent or sometimes charmingly awkward sexploitation films of the 70s, the ease with which the actors engage with their subject in Emmanuelle is refreshing--compared to sex scenes in modern film and television, which seem generally rote and chaste by comparison, Emmanuelle is even more refreshing. It's like mellow jazz, though I should point out the soundtrack is mostly stolen from King Crimson's "Lark's Tongue".

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