Forever Emmanuelle/Laure (1975/1982) -***½
I remember being extremely confused the first time I saw Forever Emmanuelle/Laure on cable in the late 1980’s. It wasn’t that I couldn’t follow the plot (I was too busy ogling all the naked chicks to notice something like that)— what I was having trouble with was the fact that at no point during its 90-odd minutes does a character named Emmanuelle ever appear. There’s a Laure, a Myrte, a Natalie, a Dolly, and about a dozen fine young ladies whom the script never bothers to name, but not a single Emmanuelle. Actually, there’s a perfectly sound reason for this: despite what its English-language distributors would like you to believe, this is not an Emmanuelle movie at all. There is a connection between the two films, to be sure, but it is of a strictly genealogical nature. Emmanuelle Arsan, who wrote the novel Emmanuelle: Joys of a Woman, from which the movie Emmanuelle had been derived, also wrote the screenplay for Laure, and even appears in it in a fairly major role. And according to Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, the authors of Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies, 1956-1984, the “Anonymous” director of Forever Emmanuelle was none other than Marayat Andriane, the actress on whose life Arsan based her famous novel. (For that matter, there is some indication that Arsan and Andriane are really the same person, but I don’t know enough about that to feel confident saying one way or the other.) The important thing is that Arsan’s involvement was enough not only to ensure that Laure would play the English-speaking world as a phony Emmanuelle sequel, but to secure the use of the “official” two-“m”-ed spelling in the title. And for our purposes, the other important thing is that Forever Emmanuelle is one of my favorite French softcore pornos of all time.
The story is practically invisible, rearing its head only briefly and infrequently during the first hour. (And given the disastrous effect on the movie’s watchability during the final third, when the plot finally seizes control, this is almost certainly a good thing.) Laure Olson (the crotch-bogglingly beautiful Annie Belle, from Lips of Blood and Black Velvet) and Nicholas Murray (Al Cliver, whose character has a much better gig here than in The Beyond or Devil Hunter) meet while trying to catch the bus to L.I.P.S., the [Something that starts with “L”— hey, give me a break, my tape is pan-and-scan!] Institute of Pacific Studies, somewhere in the Philippines. There’s only one seat left on the bus, but Laure is kind enough to suggest that she and Nicholas could share it— as if any male heterosexual would say no to that! It’s never made clear why Nicholas was going to L.I.P.S., but Laure is on her way to work, after a fashion. Her father and a hotshot anthropologist named Gualtier Morgan (Orso Maria Guerrini) are giving a lecture about a mysterious stone-age tribe called the Mara, and Laure is going to be running the slide projector and soundboard. When most of the passengers get off at the next stop, their places are taken by Dr. Morgan himself, along with his wife, Natalie (Michele Starck, of Salon Kitty and Black Cobra), and her friend, Myrte (Emmanuelle Arsan, who, surprisingly enough, appears to be a real Pacific Islander). Laure and Morgan suggest that Nicholas come to the lecture, and Nicholas (never the sort to turn down an invitation from a pretty girl sitting in his lap) takes them up on the offer.
Thus begins a scene that will tell us a great deal about where Forever Emmanuelle is headed. Up on the lectern, Morgan explains that the Mara are a vanishing people, and that if they become extinct, so will a way of life that is completely unique in the world. While most of the things the Mara do are typical of primitive hunter-gatherers, they are set apart by the curious ritual at the center of their culture. On the night of the summer solstice, all of the Mara but the very young and the very old take part in the ceremony of the Rebirth of the Sun (wouldn’t you think a ceremony with a name like that would happen on the winter solstice?), after which something (a drug, perhaps?) wipes away their memories completely, and they reenter tribal society as new people, with new names, new lives, new relationships. No Westerner has ever witnessed the Rebirth of the Sun, and it’s pretty clear that Morgan would like to be the first. Meanwhile, as the professor drones on, and his slideshow clicks away, Laure has smuggled several of her friends under the table supporting the soundboard, where they are eagerly watching Natalie Morgan go down on her. (The Vestron home video edition jarringly cuts a few seconds of near-hardcore footage from this scene.) Gualtier notices, alright, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
The plot won’t move another inch for a good twenty minutes or so. When it does, it will only be to establish that Morgan is going to Enel Island to look for the Mara, and that Laure, Nicholas, and Myrte will be going with him. A brief blip of plot ten minutes after that has Nicholas and Laure marrying, and then the story falls silent again until the second-to-last reel, when the intrepid explorers land at last on Enel, find the Mara’s village, and have a sudden crisis of conscience just moments before making contact. Rather than “introduce our obsessions to these innocent people as a New Year’s present,” they all turn around and go back to civilization— all, that is, except Laure, whose burning desire for an “infinite experience” leads her not just to watch the Rebirth of the Sun, but to take part in it, forgetting everything about herself and her life back home as the credits roll.
But as we all know, it’s what happens in between the pieces of the plot that is the true purpose of this movie. And with so little time devoted to advancing the story, the filmmakers have left themselves room for an astonishing array of erotic set-pieces. All the usual stuff is here, of course— all the sunbathing, skinny dipping, partner-swapping, and lesbianism one expects from a European skin flick— but there’s also plenty the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else. The scene in which Laure and Nicholas go shopping downtown, which has Laure (who apparently has never heard of underwear) doffing her skirt and making her blouse pull double duty as a dress after Nicholas remarks that he prefers the way she looks in a shorter skirt than the one she’d been wearing, goes right to the upper echelon of the “stuff that never happens to you, ever” list. And the scene in which Nicholas films Laure playing tennis against Morgan with his 16mm movie camera... sweet, merciful crap! Who knew tennis could be this sexy?! While I’m at it, I suppose I should also bring up the scene where Artenio, the Filipino guy Laure and Nicholas picked up for some action the night before, takes them to visit one of his old army buddies, who is now a transsexual named Dolly— that might have to go all the way to the top of the “stuff that never happens to you, ever” list! Adding to the amusement is the fact that what dialogue is allowed to intrude on these scenes is devoted almost entirely to the most preposterous bullshit philosophy imaginable, the better to salve the consciences of middle-class Parisians who would never admit that they had gone to the movies to watch smut. It’s awfully ironic that a movie I picked to wash the aftertaste of Andrei Tarkovsky out of my brain should also be up to its eyeballs in this kind of dialogue, but there’s a big difference. First, Tarkovsky means it. The creators of Forever Emmanuelle could scarcely have made the cynicism behind their “deep” dialogue any more obvious if they’d tried. And second, I think I’d have liked Stalker a lot better if its endlessly philosophizing characters had also been beautiful women who did most of their bullshitting in the nude.
One thing I kept thinking about while I watched Forever Emmanuelle (warning: I’m about to start talking a lot more seriously than this movie really deserves, so if you don’t think you can take it, here’s your chance to escape from the review) was the glaring difference of tone between this movie and the real Emmanuelle. Annie Belle’s Laure has a lot more in common with the one-“m” Emanuelle played by Laura Gemser in the Black Emanuelle series than she does with Sylvia Kristel’s two-“m” Emmanuelle, despite the intimate involvement of the latter character’s creator here. Emmanuelle is really the victim in her story, taken advantage of first by her husband, then by her female lover, and finally by the reptilian psychosexual sadist Mario. Laure, in contrast, is in complete control of herself, her life, and her sexuality at all times. The men in her life are nearly all in positions of comparative weakness relative to her, and even Nicholas, who is certainly her equal, lacks any trace of the exploitiveness that characterizes all the male characters in Emmanuelle. But at the same time, Laure’s character never displays the predatory edge that increasingly came to dominate Gemser’s portrayal of her Emanuelle. Indeed, of all the intimate relationships depicted in the European sex films of the 70’s, the one between Laure and Nicholas is probably the closest to being psychologically healthy in real-world terms. It’s far from traditional, of course— no monogamy for these two— but both partners are shown to be comfortable with their arrangement, which they have arrived at together through mutual understanding, and to be driven by a genuine concern for each other’s feelings. Maybe that’s what I like so much about this movie— that it lacks the creepy undercurrent of abuse that shows up so often in these flicks. Then again, maybe it’s just that I’m a huge sucker for a beautiful, tiny, but still healthily proportioned girl with a bleached-silver buzz cut...