Walerian Borowczyk, 1987
Staring: Monique Gabrielle, Crofton Hardester, Dana Burns Westburg
Emmanuelle is visiting the Cannes Film Festival when an unruly mob of fans chase her through the streets and rip her clothes off. She is just able to escape by leaping naked onto a boat as it is pulling away from the dock. It turns out to be piloted by a millionaire and they quickly become lovers. Later, a dictator convinces her to travel to his country, because he wants to do a screening of one of her films. It turns out that this is just a premise to kidnap her and force her to join his harem, where she will become a sex slave.
I. Just. Can’t.
There are a lot of Emmanuelle/Emanuelle films out in the world (more on this in a moment), but this is surely the worst — at least the worst that I’ve seen. And that’s saying something if you know anything about the series or the state of exploitation films in the ‘90s.
Let me back up a little. In 1957, French-Thai beauty Marayat Rollet-Andriane (or perhaps her husband) penned an autobiographical novel about the highly unconventional sex life she and her politician husband led throughout Asia and Europe. This was turned into the 1974 film, Emmanuelle, a sexually-explicit work banking on the success of The Last Tango in Paris (1972) and relaxed censorship laws in France. Incredibly successful, the film spawned a number of sequels over the years — including dozens of unofficial ones. The most popular group of these are intentionally misspelled Emanuelle and are known as the “Black Emanuelle” films thanks to the darker skin color of their star, Laura Gemser (who is Dutch-Indonesian, not actually African).
I enjoy a lot of the Emmanuelle films, not just because I like sexploitation, but because many of them have an (admittedly loose) message of female empowerment through sexuality -- something definitely akin to director Walerian Borowczyk’s work. Many of them have some very sexy scenes, some unintentionally funny ones, and at the minimum, pleasant nudity and attractive locations. I’m not sure how Emmanuelle 5 went so wrong, other than to say that Borowczyk suffered from producer interference and eventually walked away from the film. It was recut, stock footage was added in, and apparently three varying cuts exist — the European version, which is apparently the most faithful, a bizarrely edited, censored American version with a different plot, and one containing hardcore inserts.
There are two really sad and perhaps ironic things about how Emmanuelle 5 relates to the rest of the series. First and foremost, star Sylvia Kristel, who worked with Borowczyk on La marge, was cast in the first film and a few of its early sequels. Emmanuelle 5 was one she definitely did not appear in (in terms of the original Emmanuelle series), though she would actually return for more sequels at a later date. Her absence is particularly noteworthy and Monique Gabrielle, the first American cast in the role, is absolutely horrible. There are no words to really express how awful she is.
Secondly, the Emmanuelle (and particularly the Emanuelle) films became a regular stomping ground for exploitation directors in the ‘80s. Just Jaeckin, Borowczyk, Jess Franco, Massimo Dallamano, Bruno Mattei, Jean Rollin, and Joe D’Amato all churned them out over the years, though like Borowczyk, Rollin's relationship with the series was troubled. I’m not sure where things went wrong, as Borowczyk made some of the greatest erotica films (or films period) of the ‘70s, but I can understand how he would lose interest. It was his second to last film and he retired soon after.
Why is it so terrible? It would probably be easier to explain what about the film is enjoyable — which is to say, precious little. In addition to the appalling acting, it’s very, very ‘80s. There are lots of agonizing shots of Emmanuelle making out with a man that are not connected to the rest of the film. These appear to be dream sequences of some kind (or possibly flashbacks) but they are hazy, in slow-motion, and are repeated so often that I wanted to set that particular reel on fire by the time the film was over (it's the central image on the DVD cover pictured right here -- also, why are they wet?).
Did I mention Gabrielle is terrible?
Did I mention Gabrielle is terrible?
This doesn't feel like a Borowczyk film, outside of a sequence on a train, and I can’t recommend it to... anyone, actually. If you really want to sate your curiosity, fast-forward to the film-within-a-film, an erotic sequence that’s the best Emmanuelle 5 has to offer, though the Arabic dictator and his harem are unintentionally hilarious (and super racist).
If this blog is useful to you in any way, let it be that I’ve spared you from this disaster — a film that surely does not belong to Borowczyk.