Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack/Erotic Daughters of Emmanuelle/Journal Érotique d’un Bûcheron (1974) -**½
Now is that a beautifully surreal title, or what? Despite what Tom of Finland no doubt had to say on the subject, lumberjacking has never seemed to me like an inherently sexy profession. Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack therefore strikes me in about the same way as would Erotic Diary of a Bus Driver or Erotic Diary of an Exterminator. Then again, one of writer/director Jean-Marie Pallardy’s earlier movies was called Erotic Case-File of a Notary in its country of origin, so what do I know? It doesn’t really matter much anyway, because this weirdly deadpan softcore comedy isn’t actually about a lumberjack at all. Permit me to explain…
The “lumberjack” of the title is really Professor Muller (Georges Guéret, from My Body Burns and Unsatisfied), a scientist of some sort. My guess is he’s an electrical engineer, but we’ll get to that in a bit. What matters for the present is that Muller is good enough at whatever he does to be in constant demand among people who are accustomed to getting what they want, and that he’s completely fed up with his way of life. Muller would like nothing more than to retire to the countryside where he grew up, maybe to take up farming or cattle ranching or some such thing. Something that entails close proximity to lots of lusty young peasant girls, in any case. The professor is longing especially hard for such a change of pace on the day the president of France calls to congratulate him for winning the Nobel Prize, and when his son, Jean-Marc (Pallardy himself, who often played major roles in his films— look for him in front of the camera in Truck Stop and Naked and Lustful, too), comes to summon him to the telephone, he finds that Muller has simply run off without a word to anyone. Muller presumably alternates hiking and hitchhiking until he reaches the nearest stretch of farmland, after which he steals the clothes off of the first scarecrow he sees, and melts away into the peasantry. Specifically, he melts away into a strange and isolated logging community that has evolved somehow into a kind of libertine utopia.
Five years go by, during which the outside world hears not a peep out of Professor Muller. Then Jean-Marc receives a visit from a man named Jack (Jacques Insermini, from Body Games and The Cats), who invites him to come see what his father has made of himself out in the woods. Muller, now nicknamed “the Lumberjack,” has taken the peculiar character of his rustic retreat and run with it. Very little logging goes on there anymore; instead, the village and its 4000 acres of forest have become a sort of underground resort for dirty old men who want to escape from the pressures of modernity in the company of flocks of comely young women who are apparently eager to climb into bed with anyone or anything. (At one point, we see one of the girls getting it on with a skeleton. Really.) Jack is quite proud of what Muller’s innovative thinking has done for his community, but Jean-Marc is scandalized. So far as he’s concerned, Jack has just described the world’s biggest whorehouse, and identified his father as its head pimp. Jean-Marc does accept Jack’s invitation to visit the village, but he does so solely in the hope of talking what he considers sense to his dad.
Jean-Marc’s opinion of Muller’s paradise is shared by the authorities, as it happens. It’s never quite clear how they got wind of the operation, but the police are determined to shut it down— especially once rumors start filtering back to Paris indicating that the mastermind of the whole sordid business might be a Nobel-laureate scientist. To that end, two detectives are dispatched to infiltrate Muller’s village. Paulo (Jean Luisi, from Gunfight at the OQ Coral and Erotic Diary of a Lady from Thailand) is to pose as a guest or customer or whatever, while Isabelle (Willeke Van Ammelrooy, of Alicia and The Lift) is to feign interest in becoming a part of the professor’s stable. The mission is made more difficult by two factors, however. First, the village is nothing as straightforward as a giant bawdy house, so this notion of client and employee really doesn’t apply. And secondly, both detectives go native, as it were. Paulo is found out by Muller, and when offered the choice between joining the community for real, and enduring a torturously tantalizing captivity in one of the women’s cabins, he opts for Door Number One. Isabelle, meanwhile, falls in love with Jean-Marc. Her defection is arguably less of an impediment to dropping the dime on the village than Paulo’s (Jack certainly sees things that way when he eventually discovers Isabelle’s true agenda), because Jean-Marc had been hoping to persuade his father to return to straight society anyway. But since the younger Muller too is being slowly won over by the charms of libertine living, it’s no wonder that the chief inspector back in Paris is no longer getting nearly the performance he expected of his agents. He’ll just have to send in some more who aren’t so easily distracted…
Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack is really kind of a mess. In fact, the synopsis you just read contains as much conjecture as firm, explicitly presented plot information, the latter of which is in exceedingly short supply here, even by the standards of softcore porn. For example, I’m just assuming that the village women aren’t really hookers, because nobody who wouldn’t count as an unreliable narrator ever says they are, and because I can’t imagine otherwise how Paulo and Isabelle between them couldn’t uncover enough evidence to shut the village down when they’re both fucking living in it. I’m also just inferring that Professor Muller undertook a sweeping refocusing of the villagers’ way of life after his arrival, partly because we never see any more logging after the opening credits, and also because I can’t see the video surveillance network he installs in all the cabins (which, in practice, is but a framing device for sex scenes unconnected to the real story) being a sufficient reason in and of itself for everyone in town to start treating him like he owns the place. And I haven’t even mentioned a couple of scenes that are clearly of vital importance to their featured characters’ development arcs, but which are rendered totally unintelligible by Pallardy’s daft decision to shoot them silent apart from background music and forest sounds. The characters talk, alright, and what they say is apparently important enough to redefine their whole relationships, but Pallardy didn’t think it was important enough to let us hear any of it! I’ve never seen anything like it.
I also can’t recall ever seeing another European sex comedy that played its humor so close to the vest, but that’s something for which Pallardy is to be commended. Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack is so ridiculous in concept that it just barely needs any jokes to be funny. It expresses its sense of humor primarily by pretending to take seriously things that no sane person possibly could, and since that jibes quite nicely with my own sense of humor, I found it a good deal more amusing than the typical French or Italian sex farce. This is not to say that this movie is completely without overbroad zaniness (witness the elderly rocket scientist who, despite being no longer able to get it up, is among the village’s most accomplished lovers thanks to the power of his remote-control multiphasic vibrator), but by the standards of the genre, we’re talking about a shockingly dignified film here. There is one point, though, when Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack’s poker-faced approach works to its detriment, a rape scene that would be more at home in something from Russ Meyer’s Lorna period. (And by the way, I don’t care what Pallardy says to the contrary in the interview that accompanies the Le Chat qui Fume DVD— it bloody well is a rape scene, just as much as when the hermit’s retarded son assaults Linda in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.) A scene like that has no place in a comedy anyway, but Erotic Diary of a Lumberjack’s pseudo-realistic tone makes it even uglier than it needed to be.