Joy & Joan/Joy et Joan (1985) -***½
I opened my review of Sergio Bergonzelli’s Joy by observing that it was unusual among Emmanuelle cash-ins for how closely it followed its inspiration as a story. While other movies were content to copy Emmanuelle’s look, to reproduce its settings, and most of all to ape its pretensions to high class and good taste, Joy lifted not only the sexual awakening plot framework, but even such details as the failed second-act romance and the aged philosopher of fucking who takes the title character under his wing during the third (although Joy’s Sex Yoda was considerably more benign than Emmanuelle’s). Joy & Joan, the first Joy sequel, and the only one made for theatrical release, goes in a completely different direction— one which is in some ways more interesting, and which becomes doubly so when considered in conjunction with the first film. If Joy was an unusually faithful copy of a Sylvia Kristel Emmanuelle movie, then Joy & Joan just as faithfully duplicates a Laura Gemser Emanuelle film instead.
Normally, this would be the point at which I’d remind you all where the last movie left off, but since Joy & Joan not only doesn’t pick up there, but indeed proceeds from the assumption that Joy (now played by Brigitte Lahaie, from Night of the Hunted and The Ordeal) has retained not a trace of the hard-won wisdom she gained during the first film, I might as well spare myself the effort. Joy is back with Marc Charoux, only now he’s a journalist instead of an architect, and he’s played by Jean-Marc Maurel instead of Gerard Antoine Huart. One thing about Marc hasn’t changed, though— he’s still an egoistic, philandering asshole with no respect for Joy whatsoever. And would you look at that… The very first time we see Joy and Marc together, he’s dumping her in the most cruel, insensitive, arrogant, hateful manner that he can contrive before boarding a plane for Bangkok.
Joy’s choice of rebound guys is, if anything, even worse than her choice of guys from whom to rebound. You remember me saying just two paragraphs ago that her Sex Yoda was more benign than Mario from Emmanuelle? Well, evidently Joy now regrets that bit of good fortune, because Bruce (Pierre Londiche), the man in whose arms she seeks comfort after her latest breakup with Marc, is basically just a taller Mario with fluffier hair. He too is a colossally wealthy older man who holds himself above and beyond all moral strictures, and who enjoys nothing better than asserting ownership over beautiful young women and subjecting them to various sorts of humiliation. Normally it would reflect rather poorly on Joy’s judgement, maturity, and sense of self-worth that she remains painfully fixated on Marc even after she has a new man in her life, but Marc, bastard that he is, is easily the lesser of two evils here. It takes some time, however, for Bruce to show his true colors, so when he makes a heartfelt-sounding offer to take her anywhere in the world to get her mind off her troubles, and when she replies that she wants to go to Bangkok, we’ll naturally assume her desire to be where Marc is to be the self-destructive impulse, rather than her willingness to go with Bruce to the Third World.
It really is Bruce who’s the danger here, though, and accompanying him to Thailand, where he truly will be answerable to no one for all practical purposes, is an unbelievably bad idea. A close friend of Bruce’s, another European by the name of Prince Cornelius (Jacques Bryland), owns a villa on an island in the Gulf of Thailand, and the two men have an arrangement (hinted to stem from something non-specifically sinister) whereby Bruce can stay there anytime he wants. Prince Cornelius is a real piece of work himself. Imagine Erich Von Stroheim playing Torgo in a parallel-universe version of Manos: The Hands of Fate, and you’ll more or less have his number. Nevertheless, Bruce wastes no time proving himself to be still the film’s champion creep. The first thing he does upon showing Joy around the house is to present her with a native girl (Maria Isabel Lopez, from Daughters of Eve and Cannibal Curse) whom he literally bought from her parents on a business trip to Malaysia some years ago, and to announce that Millarca, as he calls her (Ha! I can’t seem to get away from “Carmilla” this update cycle…), is to be Joy’s slave. Then he starts talking about marriage to Joy as if it were a completely forgone conclusion, and waving crazily expensive presents around. And then, at the party Bruce and Eurotrash Torgo throw in Joy’s honor soon after her arrival, he drugs her wine, and invites every one of the male guests to take turns fucking her in the back garden. The very soul of human decency, this guy…
Amazingly, Joy does something smart at this juncture, and begins looking for avenues of escape. It’s a fairly tall order, when you really look at her situation. She’s trapped on an island, in an unfamiliar place, on the wrong side of the globe, with no friends and no money. Bruce makes no effort to stop her from placing phone calls to the outside world, but whenever she tries that, Eurotrash Torgo listens in on her from the phone in his office. (It’s unclear, though, at this point whether he does so at Bruce’s instigation, or for reasons of his own.) And as Joy discovers while trying to convert a noontime horseback ride into a breakout, the inhabitants of the nearest village are not to be trusted on any level. Millarca seems a reliable enough ally, but not an especially powerful one. Ironically, Joy’s first lucky break comes when a group of foreign journalists stop by the villa to interview the prince about something, and one of them turns out to be Marc Charoux. Joy manages to escape as far as downtown Bangkok, and to elude Eurotrash Torgo and his minions long enough to make contact with Marc, but their reunion does not go as Joy envisioned. Rather than starting off with “Help! I’m being held captive by a billionaire psychopath!” Joy lets her feelings sidetrack her into fucking Marc in a street-corner photo booth, and by the time he’s all, “That was great, babe— nice to see you. Gotta run!” it dawns on her that she never said a single word about the whole Gang-Bang Dungeon of Dr. Date-Rape thing. Whoops.
The more perceptive of you will be wondering something at this point. We’re 40 minutes into a movie called Joy & Joan— so where the hell is Joan? Joan (Isabelle Solar) is on a boat just this second, somewhere in the Chao Phraya River canal system, preparing to lead a bunch of mostly elderly Western vacationers on a sightseeing tour of the city. Joy meets her when she sneaks aboard in the hope of dodging Prince Cornelius one more time, and the two women really hit it off. Joan’s back-story is almost as eventful as Joy’s. She came to Bangkok with her boyfriend about five years ago, their relationship promptly imploded, and she’s been supporting herself ever since by alternating stints as a tour guide with a more lucrative but less secure career as a con artist, pickpocket, and all-around petty criminal. Most of the time, Joan stays with an old Thai couple, on terms that sound remarkably similar to Bruce’s bargain with Eurotrash Torgo. But being a considerably better human than Bruce, she continues to do non-illegal favors for her benefactors, too, pitching in whenever she can to help them run their orphanage. Joan deduces pretty quickly that Joy is in some kind of trouble, so she offers to bring her by the orphanage with an eye toward getting her situated there long enough to figure out her next move. This being the sort of movie that it is, that next move involves Joy and Joan falling in love, and the latter volunteers to help the former get out of Thailand. Joan knows a guy in the Philippines; the flight from Bangkok is only three hours long, and Joan has enough money squirreled away for two plane tickets. There are three things standing in the way of a happily-ever-after for the two women, however. First, Eurotrash Torgo is harder to shake than a debt-collection agency, and the Philippines really aren’t that far away. Second, that “friend” of Joan’s turns out to be running a gang-bang dungeon of his own. And third, Joy still hasn’t gotten over that fucker Marc Charoux.
By any technical standard, Joy & Joan is a much worse movie than Joy, but it’s also a substantially more entertaining one. The weightiest item in the debit column is the replacement of Claudia Udy by Brigitte Lahaie in the central role. Lahaie is more like a malfunctioning animatronic installation than an actress. She’s doing well when she remembers to have a facial expression, and her dead, black eyes put me in mind of Quint’s description of being face to face with a shark in Jaws. Lahaie is so superhumanly pretty that at first it’s possible to be distracted from her utter absence of acting ability, but even that becomes untenable once Joan enters the picture. Isabelle Solar isn’t much less gorgeous herself, and unlike her costar, she can deliver a credible performance. It’s exasperating to realize that Lahaie’s career spanned decades (maybe she got better at some point?), while Solar appears never to have made another film. In a way, Lahaie’s robot-like lack of affect might be taken as a strange sort of asset, since it tends to take the edge off of the sexual assaults and coersions that Joy is constantly subjected to: “Huh. Well, she doesn’t seem to mind, so I guess it must be alright, no matter what it looks like.” The trouble is, all that material should have edge (it certainly has plenty when Joan is the focus instead), and the argument that this story is made less problematic by Joy’s equanimity in the face of being molested, raped, or otherwise taken advantage of by every man she meets is unconvincing to say the least.
Most of Joy & Joan’s other faults are selling points in disguise, though, so that director Jacques Saurel’s failure ever to make another movie becomes just as disappointing as Isabelle Solar’s. The moment I really fell in love with Joy & Joan came after the shift to the Philippines, when it was revealed that Prince Cornelius had followed Joy even there. Picture the scene: a secluded stretch of beach, palm trees all over the place, a nightclub on the dunes built in high Exotica style, Joy and Joan frolicking topless in the surf, and Joan’s friend, William (I’m guessing this is Ian Patrick, but I don’t know that for anything like certain), perving on them from the veranda of his cocktail lounge. Suddenly, up from the sea a discreet distance away rises Eurotrash Torgo with a pair of binoculars— clad not in neoprene or swimming trunks or anything similarly sensible, but in the same white Colonialist Oppressor suit he always wears! He has no snorkel, no diver’s mask, no oxygen tank, but his trusty hardwood cane floats on the placid surface of the water within easy reach. It’s absolutely glorious, and I haven’t a clue what to make of it. On the one hand, it might be a wink from Saurel, a sly acknowledgement that he realized perfectly well what kind of movie he was making. But sillier things have happened with a completely straight face in European sexploitation films— in fact, sillier things happen with an apparently straight face in Joy & Joan. In any case, the effect is similar to that in Make Them Die Slowly, when Umberto Lenzi shows us for the first time that the protagonists are being stalked by a cannibal war party straight out of a 1940’s Warner Brothers cartoon. “Wait,” you say, “Was that supposed to be a joke?” And you never do get a straight answer, either from Lenzi or from Saurel. Something similar could also be said about Joy & Joan’s determination to go further and further over the top with each change of scene, which cumulatively erases the disturbing darkness of the Gang-Bang Dungeon of Dr. Date Rape segment— not by lightening the tone of the film, but by darkening it until it reaches Frank Miller levels of inadvertent farce. Appropriately, that trend maxes out with the epilogue, after Joy has escaped back to France and reunited with Joan. (The circumstances of their separation aren’t worth going into at this point. Suffice it to say that there was plenty of gang-rape involved.) But whereas most of Joy & Joan unwittingly parodies the likes of Emanuelle in America (as if such a thing were necessary), that conclusion plays as an accidental satire of conventional romance dramas, as Joy gets a happy ending that you’d have to disregard the basic psychological makeup of no fewer than three characters to believe. Considering everything that’s happened by that point, it’s extremely impressive that the last ten minutes of Joy & Joan manage to be harder to swallow than the preceding 84.