Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman / Emmanuelle 2 / Emmanuelle’s 7th Heaven / Emmanuelle L’Antivierge (1975) ***
Okay, so your studio just made the most successful French movie of all time— what are you going to do next? Fuckin’-a-right... You’re going to make a sequel! In fact, you’re going to make a butt-load of sequels, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman moves away from much of what made the original Emmanuelle so good (like having an actual story, for instance), but on the other hand, it’s easier to enjoy as a straight-up sex flick, as it lacks its predecessor’s disturbing undertones of cruelty and cynicism. It’s also one of the most honestly and effectively erotic movies I’ve ever seen.
I do wish it had some sort of a plot, however. But with Francis Giacobetti— an Italian— wearing the hats of both director and screenwriter, that just wasn’t going to happen. Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel, reprising her breakthrough role) boards a passenger boat and sails off to Hong Kong, where her engineer husband, Jean (Umberto Orsini, from Battle of the Worlds and The Tempter), has been working for the last two months. Let me point out immediately that this is not the same Jean she was married to last time around, but don’t bother asking me (or Francis Giacobetti, either) how we might have gotten from the end of the preceding movie to the beginning of this one. You know as well as I do that we’re just here to see Sylvia Kristel get all naked and sweaty, so just relax and go with it for now, okay? Anyway, on the trip to Hong Kong, Emmanuelle gets shoehorned into a big dormitory cabin with about 20 other women, despite the fact that she paid for a first-class ticket. What’s this all about? Well how else was Giacobetti going to set up the lesbian scene between Emmanuelle and the French blonde with the unflattering glasses? Man— sex already in the first reel! They’re not wasting any time with this one, are they?
Once Emmanuelle arrives at Jean’s ridiculously swank Hong Kong pad, she discovers that she and her husband will not be alone. In addition to Wong the maid (Claire Richard), whom Emmanuelle already knew about, the house is occupied by a young pilot named Christopher (Frederic Lagache). Jean will later reveal that Christopher works as a small-time smuggler of art objects, but nothing whatsoever is made of this point, even after Emmanuelle intercepts a phone call for him from a man who appears to be a triad agent. In any case, the initial meeting between Christopher and Emmanuelle comes when she walks in on him while he’s taking a bath, so we can be almost certain the two of them are going to end up fucking at least once before this is all over with. She also finds out that Jean has been having an affair with a local woman named Laura (Florence L. Afuma), of whom she becomes slightly jealous. Not because of the affair in and of itself, you understand— it just bugs Emmanuelle that Jean would bang Laura while they were swimming in the ocean when he’s never performed that specific act with her. Laura really isn’t going to be all that important in the long run, but we need to introduce her, because a friend of hers has an 18-year-old daughter who is.
Emmanuelle meets the charming young Anna-Maria (Catherine Rivet) when she and her husband attend a party over at Laura’s friend’s house, and she immediately makes it her personal project to corrupt the girl. Hey, I understand completely— every innocent 18-year-old girl ought to have a bad influence in her life. Emmanuelle befriends Anna-Maria, and begins taking her on adventures all around Hong Kong, climaxing with a trip to a massage parlor with her and Jean. (And take a good, close look at the masseuse who services Anna-Maria... Holy crap! That's a pre-stardom Laura Gemser writhing around on top of Little Miss Rivet!) Eventually, Anna-Maria has a falling-out with her father, and goes so far as to move in with her new friends. And when Jean and Emmanuelle embark on a vacation to Bali, Anna-Maria comes along too.
Like the original Emmanuelle, Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman never comes to anything like a real conclusion, but there's a major difference between the first film’s non-ending and this one. Last time around, deliberate open-endedness was the name of the game. Though there was no closure to the story as such, the ending did at least point in a definite direction, implying a great deal about what Emmanuelle would be getting up to after the credits rolled, and leaving the viewer with quite a few ugly possibilities to mull over. Francis Giacobetti, on the other hand, seems to have broken off where he did for no better reason than that his predecessors had done something similar, and in fact endings that were nothing of the sort would become a hallmark of the Emmanuelle series at least until 1984.
You might wonder, in light of the sarcastic tone I’ve taken throughout this review, why I rate Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman so highly. This is because, for all its faults, it never becomes ridiculous the way so many other softcore sex films do. This movie also serves as one of the best illustrations I could name of why softcore porn is often more genuinely erotic by orders of magnitude than its hardcore counterpart. Most hardcore porn devotes itself to an almost mechanistic rotation through a litany of required acts. It is joyless, soulless, and awesomely efficient at sucking all of the fun out of sex. Softcore, on the other hand— European softcore especially— isn’t so much about putting the actors through their paces. Instead, it puts tremendous emphasis on the inherent beauty of the human body, and upon the bond, however fleeting, that the sex act naturally creates between those engaged in it. When people go at it in Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman, they really do seem to be enjoying themselves, in marked contrast to what you’ll see in any movie with a tag line like “World’s Biggest Anal Gangbang!” Not only that, there is an emotional resonance to many of the sex scenes in this movie that hardcore typically doesn’t even attempt. Tell me something— when was the last time you saw a hardcore porno in which any of the characters ever kissed? In fact, this film is something of an improvement even over its predecessor in that respect, in that none of its sexual scenarios is ever portrayed as being coerced or exploitive. Emmanuelle, Jean, Anna-Maria, and the handful of others who pop into the story for a roll in the hay with one or another of the major characters, only to vanish as suddenly as they appeared, are just out to have a good time, and that is exactly what they do. Watch Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman, and you probably will too. (But make sure you catch the subtitled version— Sylvia Kristel’s voice is as beautiful as the rest of her, and the woman they hired to stand in for her in the English-language dub doesn’t even come close.)